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Male guards and female prisoners -- a brilliant idea!

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Photo by John Johnston

There's plenty to get disgusted about in the story of a Colorado female inmate who was awarded $1.3 million in damages for two years' worth of sexual assaults by a male guard. As this report in the Denver Post recounts, federal judge David Ebel blasted the Colorado Department of Corrections for its failure to protect prisoners from predatory staff.

The inmate already settled with the state for $250,000; she probably will have little luck collecting the seven-figure punitive damages from former guard LeShawn Terrell -- who, according to the inmate, coerced oral sex from her in the kitchen of the Denver Women's Correctional Facility and raped her when she refused.

It's disheartening to read about medical staff who paid little attention to the woman's long-term injuries from forced sex with Terrell. It's dumbfounding to hear prosecutors explain why they let Terrell plead to a misdemeanor that resulted in only a sixty-day jail sentence. But perhaps the most nauseating part of the whole mess is getting the customary squeaks of reassurance from prison bureaucrats, who vow to once again strengthen their "training efforts" in order to avoid future sexual assaults.

The fact is, with twenty or so confirmed sexual assaults a year -- and many more incidents that go unreported or unproven -- the DOC is doing a miserable job. And has been for some time. If this story sounds familiar, check out a few items in our Crime and Punishment archive -- notably "Prisoners of Sex," "Bulls Behaving Badly" and "If the Shoe Fits."

No amount of training is going to effectively weed out the handful of predators who are attracted to careers in corrections. The opportunity is there in part because more than a third of the staff at the DOC's women's prisons are males. Some other prison systems have gone to gender-based supervision programs after getting tagged with enough lawsuits over sexual misconduct and rape; Colorado did so in its Youthful Offender System after scandals involving several teenaged girls and male staff a few years ago. But the agency continues to insist that "training" will take care of the problem in its adult system.

Sure it will. And LeShawn Terrell has a good deal on crullers back in the bakery cooler.


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