Appeals court says Nevada prison policy was illegal
Associated Press Writer
A federal appeals court Thursday struck down a Nevada prison policy imposed to crack down on sex between inmates and correctional officers at a women’s prison that was described as an “uninhibited sexual environment.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said requiring supervisory positions be held only by female correctional officers discriminates against male employees.
“Precluding men from serving in supervisory positions in women’s prisons is not a substitute for effective leadership and enforcement of workplace rules,” Circuit Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote for the three-judge panel.
Howard Skolnik, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections, said Thursday the policy no longer exists.
“We have male lieutenants at that facility,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s been like that since I’ve been director.” Skolnik was appointed director in February 2007.
John Marcin, a Las Vegas lawyer representing four male correctional officers who filed the original lawsuit in 2006, said the ruling sends the case back to U.S. District Court for a possible trial unless a settlement can be reached. Each had sought more than $300,000 in damages.
“I’m hopeful the Nevada Department of Corrections will look at this and treat them fairly and hopefully we can avoid a trial,” he said late Thursday.
The policy was imposed at the Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility after an inmate became pregnant by a male guard in 2003. The prison at the time was run by a private company, Corrections Corporation of America, which pulled out of its contract after the scandal.
An investigation by the inspector general uncovered “widespread knowledge” that inmates traded sex with guards for favors and privileges.
The inspector general interviewed about 200 inmates and noted “frequent instances of inappropriate staff/inmate interaction,” and that in exchange for sex, prison staff “routinely” supplied inmates with alcohol, drugs, cosmetics and jewelry, court documents said.
Jackie Crawford, former state corrections director, imposed the policy after the state took back operation of the prison.
Besides limiting lieutenant positions to female officers, she also shuffled staff to ensure 70 percent of front-line guards were women. Requiring a majority of the line guards to be women was not an issue in the lawsuit.
Correctional officers Edward Breiner, Loren Chapulin, Jimmie McNeal and Randy Stout took the gender restriction on lieutenant positions to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then sued, arguing it discriminated against men.
A lower court sided with the Department of Corrections and granted it summary judgment, finding in its favor without trial. The appeals court panel reversed that action.
Marcin said the four men are still employed within the prison system, and Stout has since achieved the rank of lieutenant.