Survey finds high rate of rape, sexual assault at Montana State Prison

2014-01-08T18:30:00Z 2014-01-08T18:32:16Z Survey finds high rate of rape, sexual assault at Montana State PrisonThe Associated Press The Associated Press
January 08, 2014 6:30 pm  • 

HELENA – A nationwide survey of prisoners found Montana State Prison has one of the highest rates of rapes and sexual assaults, but state corrections officials questioned the report’s methodology and said Wednesday it’s unlikely the problem is as bad as it seems.

The U.S. Department of Justice survey of inmates in 233 state and federal prisons and 358 jails released last year identified Deer Lodge prison as one of 11 with high rates of sexual victimization of inmates.

The survey conducted from February 2011 through May 2012 included 191 Montana prisoner responses. At the time, there were more than 1,440 inmates in the state prison.

Seventeen Montana respondents reported inmate-on-inmate sexual assaults, a response rate that was third-highest among state and federal prisons surveyed.

Nineteen inmates, or nearly 10 percent of Montana respondents, reported staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct – the second-highest rate in the survey.

The national average was 2 percent of inmates reporting inmate-on-inmate assaults and 2.4 percent reporting staff-on-inmate misconduct, the survey showed.

Montana Department of Corrections Director Mike Batista and Montana State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard testified by teleconference on Tuesday during a hearing on the survey held by the Justice Department Review Panel on Prison Rape in Washington, D.C.

The hearing was not broadcast to the public outside of Washington. Copies of Batista’s and Kirkegard’s prepared testimony were provided by the state Department of Corrections, and Batista spoke by phone to the Associated Press after he testified.

Increased prisoner awareness about reporting assaults and a 2011 dispute over pat-down searches at the prison may have contributed to the survey’s high numbers, but the report depends on a small sample of anonymous prisoners whose complaints can’t be verified, Batista said.

“I think the numbers were high,” Batista told the AP.

The survey’s results do not match the 12 staff-on-inmate complaints and nine inmate-on-inmate complaints recorded by prison officials in the period covered by the inmate survey, Batista said.

The authors of the Bureau of Justice Statistics survey acknowledge that some inmates’ allegations may be untrue. However, other inmates who were assaulted may not have participated in the survey, despite assurances of confidentiality, the report said.

The untrue and unreported allegations may offset each other, but the extent of underreporting and false reporting is unknown, the report said.

Batista acknowledged there were gaps in policies and procedures that the department has addressed in the year since he has taken his position as head of the agency.

Additional problems remain, he said. The prison, which opened in 1977, needs to be modernized. Plus, it’s understaffed, with 53 of 344 correctional officer positions unfilled due to low starting wages, unqualified applicants and employee turnover, he said.

“While zero tolerance is a primary goal at the Montana State Prison, the reality is that, given the lack of modern infrastructure, the shortage of staff and funding, and other challenges, it is difficult to ensure that sexual victimization will never occur,” Batista said in his prepared remarks.

Batista and Kirkegard said they suspect the number of staff-on-inmate complaints was related to how two prison guards conducted clothed pat-down searches.

“One of the officers accused excelled at finding contraband on inmates, which potentially made him a ‘target’ for inmates who would prefer that officers searched less effectively,” Batista said, according to his prepared remarks.

One inmate filed a lawsuit in which he claimed he was sexually assaulted by a guard who squeezed his genitals during one such search, bringing tears to his eyes. The inmate sought $2 million for mental and emotion distress.

The case went to trial in 2011. A jury found in favor of the prison guard and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by the plaintiff.

Another reason for the number of sexual assaults reported on the survey also may be due to increased awareness among inmates of how to report assaults, Batista said.

Inmates receive documents and watch a video about reporting procedures when they arrive at the prison, staff has been better trained in handling complaints and a new anonymous reporting hotline began last fall as a pilot project, he said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. student4
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    student4 - January 08, 2014 7:11 pm
    I thought it was illegal to assault /destroy property of the department of corrections. Inmates assailing each other, guards had better wake up and get back to work. Inmates getting searched by guard that happens . Guards ... while engaged searching inmates is grotesque.
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