Fondling Inmates Ruled Cruel and Unusual

     MANHATTAN (CN) – The Second Circuit removed any doubt that groping prisoners for humiliation or sexual gratification violates the Eighth Amendment in the case of two inmates of a New York maximum-security lockup.
     The ruling stated that this previously had been an open question under a precedent from 1997.
     James Crawford and Thaddeus Corley, who are incarcerated at the Eastern Correctional Facility in Ulster County, N.Y., have fought for two years against what they describe as a long pattern of sexual abuse of one of their guards.
     Their federal complaint centers on corrections officer Simon Prindle, who allegedly has been named in 20 inmate grievances complaining about sexual abuse and harassment.
     Describing one incident from 2011, Corley says his wife had been visiting him when Prindle ordered him out of the room to “make sure [that he] did not have an erection” and then groped his penis after forcing him to stand against the wall, according to the complaint.
     His co-plaintiff Crawford said that, four days later, Prindle grabbed his crotch while he was leaving the mess hall and asked him “what’s that?”
     “That’s my penis, man,” Crawford says he responded.
     Prindle threatened to send Crawford to “the box” – or solitary confinement – if he did not submit to the search, according to the complaint.
     When Crawford said that the search violated protocols, Prindle allegedly replied: “You don’t have any rights in here. I’ll run my hands up the crack of your ass if I want to.”
     The inmates sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer, two superintendents and Prindle in Federal Court in 2013.
     New York argued that Corley and Crawford’s complaints, even if true, would not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment case under the 18-year-old holding of Boddie v. Schnieder.
     In that case, the Second Circuit threw out the lawsuit of a prisoner alleging sexual abuse because the “small number of incidents” of his being “verbally harassed, touched, and pressed without his consent” were not “objectively, sufficiently serious.”
     Citing that decision, U.S. District Judge Norman Mordue dismissed the inmates’ case last year.
     Reversing that decision on Tuesday, the unanimous three-judge panel said it was necessary to “clarify” the former rule based on evolving “standards of decency.”
     “A corrections officer’s intentional contact with an inmate’s genitalia or other intimate area, which serves no penological purpose and is undertaken with the intent to gratify the officer’s sexual desire or to humiliate the inmate, violates the Eighth Amendment,” Circuit Judge John Walker, Jr. wrote for the panel. “Moreover, we recognize that sexual abuse of prisoners, once passively accepted by society, deeply offends today’s standards of decency.”
     Back when Boddie was written, only 18 states and the District of Columbia criminalized guards having sexual contact with inmates, and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) had not yet become the law of the land, the opinion noted.
     “These laws and policies reflect the deep moral indignation that has replaced what had been society’s passive acceptance of the problem of sexual abuse in prison,” Walker wrote. “They make it clear that the sexual abuse of prisoners, once overlooked as a distasteful blight on the prison system, offends our most basic principles of just punishment.”
     Circuit Judges Robert Katzmann and Gerard Lynch joined the opinion.
     Adam Perlmutter, who represents Crawford for the Manhattan-based firm Perlmutter & McGuinness, told Courthouse News that his client has since been released from prison and has been juggling “several jobs trying to make a living.”
     Zachary Margolis-Ohnuma, whose client Corley has been working as a barber since his release, applauded the “very good ruling” that he said would inform district courts the proper way to apply the Eighth Amendment.
     “With just a few exceptions, almost all of the district courts were applying cases incorrectly,” he said.
     Explaining how he learned about Crawford and Corley’s case, Margolis-Ohnuma said that prisoners often write him and his co-counsel about abuse in prison.
     “When you see the same pattern, from the same people, who don’t know each other, you give it some credence,” he said.
     He added that he was not aware of any discipline against Prindle.
     The New York State Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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