Jailhouse crime: Sexual misconduct by an officer is a serious offense
January 7, 2017 12:00 AM
By the Editorial Board
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski was right to sentence a former county corrections officer, Joshua Reber, to six to 20 months’ confinement for his guilty plea to two misdemeanor counts of official oppression. Reber was accused of kissing and fondling two female inmates — behavior for which the criminal justice system must have zero tolerance and which must carry real consequences to deter others’ misconduct.
Reber’s case is hardly unique. A federal lawsuit filed in July alleged a pattern of sexual misconduct by corrections officers at the Lackawanna County Jail, and the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday that a corrections officer in that state was arrested for having sex with an inmate. According to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report, prison staff members were accused of committing nearly 50 percent of the sexual assaults reported in selected prisons and jails in 2011.
Everyone knows that a person in prison has to be wary of other prisoners. Prisoners at least should be safe from the corrections staff who have all but complete control over their lives.
It is illegal for prison staff to have even consensual sexual relationships with prisoners. But in many cases, according to the federal report, prison staff used “physical force, abuse of power or pressure” to have their way and often committed the assaults in areas such as storage and laundry areas. Reber’s accusers said they were assaulted in their cells and in a supply closet.
According to the federal report, the rogue corrections officers were more likely to lose their jobs than be prosecuted. That has to change, and it is necessary to send a strong message when offenders are convicted. In Reber’s case, probation was within the sentencing guidelines, and his attorney, Christopher Capozzi, argued for it. Judge Borkowski chose confinement, however, saying, “There has to be accountability in this matter, considering the course of conduct of multiple incidents with multiple victims over time.”
Judge Borkowski said he would consider confinement in an alternative setting, but Reber should go to jail so he can feel the powerlessness that his victims did.
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