Sexual Harassment of female Correction officers has been a growing and ignored problem when correction management isn’t mindful of the predatory sexual behavior in America’s detention facilities. Unfortunately, Westchester County Jail is no different. On April 5, 2022, Female Correction Officers of the Westchester County Jail testified before the County Legislators Public Safety Committee on the dangers and Harassment of female officers by inmates.
As an officer who has worked in corrections for 33 years, I am outraged at the lack of support from the community, its leadership, and politicians for the hard work that correction officers do. NYS Legislators, particularly the Democratic Party, literally have made a correction officer’s job harder, all in the name of reform. I say that as a registered Democrat just because they took no time to talk to reformed-minded law enforcement professionals about these laws. Let’s be clear I am all for reform. Still, if an inmate sexually harassed a female offer instead of criminal charges, punitive segregation, the inmate gets a hug and allows to watch movies on an IPad. This kind of thinking has caused more stress and anxiety, and depression within a profession that historically destroys lives just by the nature of the job.
Courts have already ruled that prison agencies are liable for the sexual harassment of their employees. In 2003, a federal jury awarded $600,000 in damages to a state correctional officer who said she was fired after complaining that naked male prisoners were harassing her. In 2010, 14 female prison nurses in Florida were awarded $45,000 each after a jury found that prison management failed to stop verbal harassment and pervasive masturbation.
The New York Times reported on October 30, 2021, that Female officers who make up half of the uniform staff said they were at high risk of being sexually assaulted by inmates.
Correctional officers report significant rates of depression, physical health problems (stress-related illness, heart attacks, blood pressure, ulcers), burnout, compassion fatigue, work-home conflict, divorce, and even a shortened life span. Correction officers’ average lifespan is 18 months after retirement, while the average age of death is 58.
Correctional officers self-reported statistically significantly more exposure to potentially psychologically traumatic events than wellness services employees. Correctional officers also self-reported higher rates of symptoms of mental disorders, including PTSD, social anxiety, panic disorder, and depression.
“It’s a shame in 2022 inmates in the Westchester County Jail can exercise their power on Women Correction Officers by sexually harassing, making sexually explicit threats of rape and sexual assaulting these women yet there is absolutely no accountability or consequences for their behavior.” Brooke Jones, President of the Westchester Correction Association shared with Black Westchester. “No charges held against them. No loss of good time. Not even punitive damages placed on their account. For anyone who says this is what we signed up for, I say, would you want that same inmate back in your neighborhood to attack someone you cared about? Because they will eventually get out. We are your mothers, daughters, wives & friends. I know I am not alone when I say most women working in Corrections have been exposed to this sexual deviant behavior more than once. We’d probably run out of fingers if we had to count the number of violations. I personally want to thank the three young ladies for having the courage to bring this to the forefront. We can no longer feel victimized.”
According to a NY Post report Correction Officers unions throughout the state are demanding tougher laws against inmates to sexually harass officers. Westchester’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association (COBA) President Neil Pellone said he wants to let officials know “the law does not stop at the walls of the jail,” and that the inmates should be subject to the same punishments they would be if they committed these crimes out on the streets. “We are tired and fed up and in need of serious change when it comes to inmate sexual harassment of our female officers,” Pellone said in a statement to The Post.
Female Correctional Officers are faced on a daily basis with the possibility of sexual harassment. When working in a male facility, women are in very close quarters with sexually deprived offenders, including sexual offenders. It’s disturbing female correction officers have to face being harassed and sexually assaulted while on the job. The lack of accountability for these horrific crimes committed behind bars is a stark reflection of just how broken our criminal justice system is!
New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently caught heat after his announcement on bringing back punitive segregation in jails as a response to a spike assault against Department of Correction staff, the NY Post reported. An action that led to 29 members of the City Council sending a letter asking Adams to reverse his position.
“They better enjoy that one-day reprieve because Jan. 1, they’re going back into punitive segregation if they commit a violent act,” Adams said in December at press conference introducing Louis Molina as new correction commissioner.
In the video below you can see the testimony of these three female officers from the Westchester County Department of Corrections and our discussion about it in this special edition of People Before Politics Radio.