Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Allegations of Sexual Assault of Female Prisoners at Riker's Island

The NBC news affiliate in New York reports today that 7 prison guards and famed NY jail, Rikers Island, have been accused of sexually assaulting female inmates. (See story here).  The allegations are that the prisoners suffered sexual abuse including being raped and were threatened with further punishment by the guards if they reported the misconduct. Similar incidents have occurred in various prisons and jails throughout the country in the past several years including penitentiaries in California.

Obviously, incidents like this raise serious concerns for the integrity of the criminal justice system and the penal system.  From a legal standpoint, both state and federal laws apply in this type of case to provide civil remedies of redress to the victims.  Principally, Chapter 42 of the United States Code, section 1983 provides that any person acting, "under color of law" (i.e. with authority over another individual based upon statute or other legal authority) that abuses their power may be held to account for such abuse.  In essence, this provides a legal basis for a civil lawsuit for money damages against both the perpetrator and, potentially, the entity which employed that person.