Second Circuit Reinstates Prison Sex Abuse Lawsuit - U.S. Second Circuit
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Second Circuit Reinstates Prison Sex Abuse Lawsuit

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a prison sex abuse lawsuit brought by female prisoners against the New York Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) alleging that guards in the state's prisons violated prisoners' civil rights.

The court found that District Judge Kevin Duffy erred in dismissing the case, Amador v. Superintendents of Dep't of Corr. Servs, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing due to subsequent release.

Three of the remaining plaintiffs who have exhausted their administrative remedies through the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) will be permitted to proceed with their suit in federal court.

Under New York law, women entrusted to the custody of DOCS are deemed incapable of consent to sexual advances. The plaintiffs have accused prison guards within DOCS of rape and unwelcome touching. The Second Circuit found that three of the 13 women who appealed the lower court’s ruling had sufficiently exhausted the PLRA remedies that were available to them, and returned those cases to the district court.

The Sex Crimes Unit receives more than 200 complaints of sexual misconduct every year. According to the complaint, it is DOCS’ standard practice to refer such complaints to the Inspector General for investigation, whether initiated by formal grievance or informal complaint. DOCS’ ensuing response is alleged to be inadequate by failing to initiate an investigation in a timely manner, failing to adequately investigate and credit inmate complaints, failing to maintain confidentiality, and failing to address any substantiated allegations meaningfully.

Dori Lewis, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney on the case, said that a guard at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Westchester County has been charged again with raping an inmate; he was acquitted of similar charges in 2003 but continued supervising female prisoners. The guard, Frederick Brenyah, pleaded not guilty to the recent rape charge, and has been suspended from his prison job since his arrest in September 2010. Corrections officials tried to fire him after his 2003 acquittal but an arbitrator returned him to work pursuant to his union contract, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The case will now go back to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, which will determine whether the prison sex abuse lawsuit should proceed as a class-action suit on behalf of some 2,200 current prisoners, as well as future inmates. The district court will also examine whether DOCS should take better protective measures. Inmates who have still have PLRA remedies available in the matter must continue to pursue their claims through the PLRA.

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