by Stephanie Fawkes-Lee
“A jury has rejected an Iowa prison guard’s lawsuit that said she was sexually harassed after inmates were repeatedly allowed to watch sexually graphic and violent movies.” The Des Moines Register reported on Saturday, October 11, 2014. “Jurors favored the Iowa Department of Corrections, which acknowledged it was wrong to let inmates watch sexually explicit movies, including some that depicted women being tortured and raped.” This brief blurb was published in the Around Iowa section buried on page 8A. But what was missing from the limited report is that admitting you were wrong and changing behavior are two separate actions.
This is not the first time that the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) was under fire for the mismanagement of the Critical Care Unit (CCU) at Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. Back in 2005 after four inmates committed suicide, Dr. Thomas White, a former Bureau of Prisons psychologist was retained to review the suicides and operations at the CCU. The report stated, “Staff at the facility do not appear share a common vision about the purpose of the CCU or its long-term mission. There seems to be two competing and contradictory visions that are in perpetual conflict. If not resolved, this conflict may make it impossible for either vision to be ultimately realized. Simply put, the differences seem to depend on whether you see the offenders as mentally ill people who are in prison, or prisoners who happen to be mentally ill.”
If the vision in play was mentally ill people who are in prison, a movie entitled Deranged would never have been shown. It would be comparable to substance abuse treatment providers showing films glorifying drug use to patients struggling to overcome addiction or sex offenders being shown porn. This was not just a lapse in judgment by the DOC, it was an irresponsible act. Fortunately, at least this time it did not have fatal consequences. We toured the CCU years ago and the impression left from witnessing a criminally insane inmate pacing his small cell like a caged animal haunts me today.
Luckily for the DOC, there will probably be no accountability for its actions. Jurors apparently agreed with Assistant Iowa Attorney General Tyler Smith that “officials appropriately dealt with Sink’s complaints and that the difficulties she faced were part of working in a prison.” This logic dates back to the 1970s when women were expected to accept that being sexual harassed at work was just part of the job. It makes me wonder, is Governor Branstad parroting this disturbing message to children being bullied at school? After all, isn’t being bullied at school just part of the difficulties one faces when attending school?