When it comes to prisoners and guards in Florida correctional institutions, there is no such thing as consensual sex. The power dynamics effectively make it impossible for prisoners to consent to any sexual activity.
If a corrections employee and a prisoner do engage in a sexual relationship, it is automatically a crime – under both state and federal law.
Specifically, F.S. 944.35 says that sexual misconduct is any sex act between a corrections employee that doesn’t rise to the level of sexual battery (or rape, which would be a higher level felony). Sexual misconduct is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If fellow prison employees know or suspect sexual misconduct between an inmate and employee and don’t immediately report it, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.
Federally, U.S.C. 2241, 2243, and 2244 criminalizes all sexual relations and sexual contact between prison staff and inmates. Existing law states prison staff-prisoner sexual relations is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison, unless the staffer uses threats or overt force.
The U.S. Office of the Inspector General is on record as saying that penalties for inmate-prison staff sexual encounters don’t serve as an efficient deterrent, and have called for stricter punishments. (It’s well-established that most state laws – including Florida – are more severe, making unforced sexual relations between corrections workers and inmates a felony.)
Civil Litigation for Prisoner-Inmate Sexual Misconduct
In any case, it’s worth pointing out that criminal penalties aren’t the only legal action worth exploring in prison sexual misconduct cases. As our South Florida sexual abuse lawyers can explain, civil litigation is another legal avenue impacted prisoners can pursue.
A prime example is the ongoing legal saga involving Florida’s largest women’s prison, located outside of Ocala. You may recall just a couple years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report that dove into reportedly rampant sexual misconduct involving staff and prisoners at Lowell Correctional Institution – going back since at least 2006. The investigation concluded these actions were violations of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment right to be protected against cruel and unusual punishment.
Now, there are multiple civil Florida sexual abuse lawsuits against the guards and the prison as well.
One of those lawsuits involves the prison warden, who was promoted to a top-tier post (as the state’s assistant regional director of programs) less than two weeks after an inmate sexual abuse lawsuit specifically accused him of turning a blind eye to widespread sexual and physical abuse at the prison. The lawsuit, filed last month, accused the warden and the state prison system of systematic sexual misconduct, as well as ignoring patterns of harassment, threats, and abuse of inmates by staffers.
This Florida sexual abuse lawsuit follows another filed over the summer accusing a corrections officer of sex abuse. Those are only the most recent in a string of cases that have been filed over the last five years. A Florida sexual abuse attorney representing plaintiffs in the two most recent lawsuits – as well as local politicians – are calling on the governor to immediately fire the recently-promoted warden.
The results of the OIG investigation released in 2020 found uncovered numerous incidents of sexual abuse and rape involving corrections officers, sergeants, and other staff against prisoners. Investigators asserted there were a number of ongoing issues that put female prisoners at “substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff.”
Unfortunately, this is far from the only pending sex abuse lawsuit involving prisoners and inmates. The New York Times recently reported on the case of a former federal corrections officer in Manhattan who confessed to sexually abusing seven female prisoners prior to being sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. To settle the civil sexual assault cases that subsequently arose from his conduct, the government paid $3 million to plaintiffs in those cases. Those payouts followed a $1.18 million settlement the government paid last year in a similar sexual abuse case by three women against the same guard.
If you or a loved one has been victimized by sexual abuse or sexual misconduct in a Florida prison or jail facility, our dedicated South Florida civil litigation lawyers can help answer your questions and identify potential avenues of legal recourse.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
U.S. Pays $4.2 Million to Victims of Jail Guard’s Long-Running Sex Abuse, July 22, 2022, By Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
Florida Civil Sexual Abuse Lawsuits May Encounter Victim-Blaming Defenses, Sept. 21, 2022, South Florida Sexual Abuse Lawyer Blog