Long Island Jail Guard Extorts Sex From Female Inmates

January 4, 2010

First inmate strip search trials. Now this. It’s been a bad couple of months for the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow, New York.  On December 29 corrections officer Mark Barber was accused of having “inappropriate relationships” with six women inmates.  The 58 count complaint accuses Barber of  rape, official misconduct, sexual abuse, forcible touching, and promoting prison contraband.

According to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice,  Barber would “befriend them, get overly friendly with them, remind them of the position of power that he was in, and how he could make their life very difficult if they did not do what he wanted them to do, and in turn, he was very good to them. He gave them cigarettes, he gave them stuff from the commissary. He allowed them to make phone calls at times that other inmates were not allowed to make phone calls.”

Barber has been suspended without pay.

These types of allegations are nothing new.

Read this blog post by Nicole Summer about female inmates and sexual assault.  Ms. Summers writes the following:

“The power dynamics in prison severely disadvantage the prisoner, who is at the absolute mercy of her guards and correctional officers, relying on them for necessities such as food and for the small privileges and luxuries such as cigarettes. Guards have unlimited access to prisoners and their living environment, including where they sleep and where they bathe. With such an imbalance of power, the likelihood of sexual assault increases. Sexual abuse in prison can range from forcible rape to the trading of sex for certain privileges. While the latter may seem consensual to some, the drastic power disparity makes the idea of “consent” almost laughable.”

The ACLU addressed this subject in an article published in 2006.  Their investigation revealed that “In many women’s prisons, male corrections officers are allowed to watch the women when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet, and some guards regularly harass women prisoners. Women also report groping and other sexual abuse by male staff during pat frisks and searches.”

According to this same article, The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women found that sexual misconduct by male corrections officers against women prisoners is widespread in United States prisons and constitutes a human rights violation.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 may have unwittingly served to protect prison guards from civil rights lawsuits brought by inmates. See this article by the ACLU.

Of course, male inmates are also subject to sexual abuse, as has been well documented.  In fact, an unusual criminal case is being prosecuted in Wisconsin where female guards are accused of sexually assaulting male inmates. The guards  claim that they were seduced by the prisoner.

More indictments like this one on Long Island may help to discourage future crimes of this nature to some extent, but all evidence seems to indicate that this problem is widespread. It boils down to the fact that prison guards have absolute power over inmates, and there is no easy way to change that dynamic.

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