Feds reach deal with Kansas to protect female prisoners from abuse

Women who are incarcerated at the Topeka Correctional Facility will be better protected from sexual abuse under a settlement agreement reached with the state, the federal Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said Friday.

The deal, announced in a news release, resolves allegations that women at the prison are subjected to sexual victimization by correctional staff and other prisoners. The Justice Department found several systemic failures in 2012 that led to a pattern of sexual abuse, which was consistent with other state reports that recognized a longstanding problem.

Under the settlement, an independent monitor will oversee implementation of the reforms and issue a compliance report every six months. The deal requires the state to maintain adequate staffing levels, supplemented by video monitoring, as well as implement a classification system for the prisoners and identify potential victims and predators.

A grievance procedure that allows prisoners to privately report abuse claims along with procedures for investigations and staff accountability also are part of the settlement.

“As a result of this agreement, state officials will be required to protect women prisoners from sexual violence and abuse as is required under the Constitution,” said Vanita Gupta, the acting attorney general for the federal department’s Civil Rights Division.

U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom commended Kansas and its Department of Corrections for working with the Justice Department to reform its practices.

In September 2012, the Justice Department identified several system failures that led to the abuse, such as a lack of procedures to classify predatory guards and prisoners, no effective investigative or grievance process and a shortage of staff, including female officers.

Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts in an e-mailed statement cited the reforms that have occurred at the facility over the past four years.

“While individuals are sentenced to prison as punishment for crimes, the sentencing is the punishment, not the conditions of their confinement,” Roberts said. “TCF has developed a culture of collaboration with zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and safety for its inmates.”

The state noted that last year, the facility was found to be 100 percent in compliance with the federally mandated Prison Rape Elimination Act.