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Civil Rights

Prison Camera Reform Act

January 13, 2023
Contributors

Following Senator Jon Ossoff’s (D-Ga.) congressional hearing regarding the rampant sexual abuse of female prison inmates, President Biden signed the Prison Camera Reform Act into law to improve security measures for federal inmates. Carolyn Richardson, represented by the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm, was in attendance and delivered a verbal testimony to Congress regarding her sexual assault while incarcerated at the now-closed Manhattan Correctional Center (MCC).

Personal Testimonies Help Advance Prison Camera Reform Act

Prison Camera Reform Act
Carolyn Richardson (center) hugs Linda De La Rosa as Briane Moore (left) looks on during Senate Hearing, Tuesday Dec. 13, 2022. Image courtesy of Jose Luis Magna, HJ News.

For the past year, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman, Jon Ossoff has led numerous investigations regarding the conditions of incarceration and detention at federal facilities in the United States. At a Senate hearing on December 13, 2022, Chairman Ossoff presented the findings of his 8-month investigation examining sexual abuse of women incarcerated in federal prisons.

The results of Chairman Ossoff’s report were alarming. The report found that prison managers failed to apply federal law to reduce sexual assault and that 8,000 reports of misconduct, including sexual abuse, have not been investigated due to backlog. Even more worrisome, the report stated that out of 5,415 allegations of abuse in the past decade, only 586 were properly investigated.

To aid the results of the investigation, Chairman Ossoff invited Carolyn Richardson, Linda De La Rosa, and Briane Moore to give personal testimonies regarding their experiences with staff-sexual abuse while incarcerated. All three women testified that the lack of proper supervision and surveillance emboldened officers to engage in sexual misconduct.

Consistent with the findings of the bipartisan investigation, Ms. Richardson testified that her abuser exploited inadequate surveillance measures to ensure that he would not be caught: “He told me that my cell was in a ‘perfect area’ because the security camera could not see him coming or going.”.

On December 14, less than 24-hours after the testimonies were delivered, the House passed the Prison Camera Reform Act. Two weeks later on December 27, President Biden signed the act into law.

The Prison Camera Reform Act will require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to evaluate and enhance security camera, radio, and public address systems at all of their facilities. Within three months the BOP must submit a report to Congress detailing failures and plans to upgrade. The upgrades must be completed within three years, and the BOP is required to submit annual progress reports to lawmakers.

Improving security at federal prisons is a necessary step to keep inmates safe from abuse. Notably, inadequate security camera placement at FCI Dublin contributed to the rampant staff sexual abuse of inmates at the all-women’s prison in Dublin, CA. This act is the first step to creating a safer environment for everyone.

Carolyn Richardson’s Story

Carolyn Richardson testifies during the Senate of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations, on Sexual Abuse of Female Inmates in Federal Prisons, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.

Shortly after arriving to MCC in 2016, Ms. Richardson began to experience complications with her vision but was denied immediate medical care despite complaints of worsening vision. As a result, Ms. Richardson became permanently legally blind and required extensive medical attention outside of the correctional facility including seven eye surgeries.

While Ms. Richardson was undergoing treatment, correctional officer Colin Akparanta was tasked with assisting Ms. Richardson. Akparanta began to establish himself as a trustworthy figure by accompanying her to appointments as well as brining food and medicine to her cell.

However, in May of 2018, Akparanta demanded sexual favors in exchange for food and medicine, taking advantage of Ms. Richardson’s extremely vulnerable mental and physical state. Ms. Richardson stated, “I felt utterly powerless. … I felt disgusted with him, but also with myself. I felt worthless, like I was something less than human that he could do with as he wished.”.

For six months, Akparanta sexually abused Ms. Richardson, becoming increasingly rough and cruel in his treatment overtime. Akparanta switched to the night shift and took advantage of Ms. Richardson’s cell location, which was isolated from security cameras. When Ms. Richardson rejected his advances, Akpartanta lied to Ms. Richardson saying that they would both get in trouble if anyone found out, in order to discourage her from reporting the abuse.

In November of 2018, Akparanta was criminally charged for sexually abusing inmates. Upon hearing that there were other victims, Ms. Richardson made the decision to come forward and cooperate with the government to prosecute Akparanta. During that time, Ms. Richardson was extremely fearful due to the fact that she was still under the custody of his colleagues and peers while incarcerated at MCC, a sentiment that all three women testifying shared.

“I stand here for other female inmates, many who may feel that they are alone, without anyone to care about their story like I used to feel. I hope in sharing this we can improve our system, and prevent this from ever happening again.”

In 2020, Akparanta pleaded guilty and admitted to engaging in abusive sexual contact with seven victims. Attorney Jaehyun Oh of Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm represented Ms. Richardson and two other women who were sexually abused by Akparanta while incarcerated at MCC. The lawsuit was brought against both Akparanta and against the United States Federal Government and its various officers who looked the other way while the abuse was occurring.

The case was settled for $3 million, which is the largest publicly available settlement obtained against the United States for officer-on-inmate sex abuse.

Seeking Legal Accountability

Sexual abuse committed by prison staff against inmates creates a violent and dangerous environment, and institutional failures often prevent the perpetrators of abuse from being held accountable.

There are many barriers to reporting prison sexual assault due to threats of retaliation from staff members who have fostered or acquiesced to a violent environment, making it impossible for incarcerated women to seek assistance.

At the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm, we can help you take legal action against the prison staff who were responsible for and complicit in causing your abuse. Our experienced team of prison sexual assault attorneys can help survivors process their trauma and seek justice, in a way that feels comfortable and validating for an individual survivor.

With a history of client success, the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm will ensure that you get the representation you deserve. If you, or someone you love, have suffered sexual abuse while incarcerated, reach out to Attorney Jaehyun Oh for a confidential initial consultation. We can help when the unimaginable happens.