A 1996 New York State Law holds that any person in custody in a New York State correctional facility cannot consent to any sex act with an employee who provides custody, medical or mental health services, counseling services, educational programs, or vocational training for inmates. A 2007 law expanded the definition of employee to include any person, including volunteers and contract employees, providing direct services to inmates. DOCS has sought another expansion that would apply the law to all DOCS employees.
DOCS has taken action against several officers who have broken this law. According to the agency, between 1996 and 2002, 19 male prison employees were convicted of violating it.
In addition, DOCS has attempted to combat staff sexual abuse by implementing several new measures over the years, including the placement of surveillance cameras in prisons. DOCS has maintained in court proceedings that it appropriately hires, supervises, trains and fires prison employees who don’t follow the rules and the law.
And data that the agency has reported to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS, suggest that DOCS keeps officers in line. The bureau defines staff sexual abuse as all sexual contact—including that in which an inmate is a willing participant—and all verbal sexual harassment and voyeurism. According to DOCS, abuse is rare in the state’s facilities—with only 79 substantiated incidents from 2005 through 2009—and rarely involves force or threats of force—six incidents during that time period. At Bayview, DOCS reports that there were two substantiated incidents of staff sexual abuse during this time, and one of them, in 2005, involved physical force.
(At left: A corrections officer patrols the perimeter at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. Taconic Correctional Facility, which like Bedford Hills only serves women, is across the street.)