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Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors said a Florida women's prison has failed to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by facility staff in violation of the inmate's constitutional rights.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida released a report on Tuesday following an investigation into the Lowell Correctional Institution that found staff sexually abused female inmates who remained at repeated risk of further abuse.
"Prison officials have a constitutional duty to protect prisoners from harm, including sexual abuse by staff," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. "Sexual abuse is never acceptable, and it is not part of any prisoner's sentence."
The report described the sexual abuse of prisoners as the product of "systemic problems" that enabled corrections officers and other staff to continue a pattern of abuse present at Lowell since at least 2006.
The investigators found that between 2017 and the publishing of the report that sergeants, corrections officers and other staff "committed notorious acts of sexual abuse," including rape, the document said.
The report said abuse of women at the facilities by staff "is severe and prevalent," citing 161 sexual misconduct investigations and complaints filed against those at the facility between 2015 and 2019, resulting in eight closed by arrest and dozens of officers dismissed due to agency policy or for committing perjury.
The abuse prisoners suffered was "varied and disturbing," the report said, explaining "some staff abused prisoners through unwanted and coerced sexual contact, including sexual penetration and groping."
Inmates also accused the staff of watching them shower or using the toilet, the report said.
"The incidents of sexual abuse follow similar patterns where officers and staff sexually abuse women who are vulnerable to sexual victimization and fear retaliation, violence, deprivation of privileges or endure sexual abuse in exchange for food, medication or contraband, in violation of the prisoners' rights," the report said.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch said in a statement that the facility has cooperated with the Justice Department's investigation, which was initiated in 2017.
"We appreciate the work of the U.S. Department of Justice and will be sharing the actions our department has taken to address the serious concerns outlined in their report," he said.