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DOJ Seeks Tougher Sentences For Sex Abuse By Prison Officials

Sexual misconduct has been a serious problem in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for many years. Whether you look at data, examine individual cases or listen to victims and advocates, the bottom line is clear: far too many individuals in custody have experienced the trauma of sexual misconduct, and there has been far too little accountability Justice Department official Marshall Miller told the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Friday..BOP is implementing more than 50 recommendations for change in a Justice Department report on the issue last year, Miller said. DOJ "believes that accountability for perpetrators is also a critical element of the solution, Miller said. Every U.S. Attorney has been asked to treat these offenses as a priority.

DOJ supports a Sentencing Commission proposal to strengthen the guidelines applicable to these offenses, including, the guideline applicable to sexual abuse of a prisoner, Miller said, adding that application of the current guideline routinely results in a sentencing range that is far too low to address the egregious conduct in these cases. In one case, the guidelines recommend a sentencing range of 15 to 21 months for sexual abuse of a ward — 10 to 16 months where the defendant pleads guilty — ranges that "fail to reflect the severity of the crime and the inherently coercive nature of the prison environment, and are way out of step with the statutory maximum sentence of 15 years," Miller said. He said perpetrators "exploit a deep and inherent power imbalance, which enables them to abuse their victims without needing to resort to physical violence, threats or overt coercion. We’ve seen time and again that victims in these cases have been sexually abused before, or have mental health disorders; frequently, they battle drug addiction or do not speak English. In some instances, the very BOP employees who provide lifeline services like drug treatment and spiritual counsel have been the ones who commit the abuse."

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