The Associated Press, Thursday, Oct. 9, 1997

Reports of sex between staff, Oregon inmates at Arizona prison

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - State corrections officials are investigating reports of sexual contact between women inmates and staff at a privately run prison in Arizona.

At least one worker was fired at the Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence, Ariz., and several others have resigned or been put on leave, Oregon officials said Wednesday.

At issue are reports of "non-forcible sexual contact" between employees and inmates confined in the center's disciplinary segregation unit.

Prison rules prohibit sexual contact between officers and inmates.

Investigators have confirmed the reports are "the real thing, as opposed to the dime-a-dozen allegations that come up," said Jim Lockwood, Corrections Department spokesman.

The allegations surfaced in July when two women inmates reported having sex with prison staff. The women were returned to Oregon a few weeks later.

Lockwood said corrections officials in Oregon and Arizona continue to investigate. Florence police have not determined if criminal charges will be filed against any prison employees there.

In recent years, Oregon has rented prison beds in other states to prevent severe overcrowding in its 8,000-inmate prison system.

The medium-security facility houses 69 female inmates and 227 male inmates from Oregon. Corrections Corporation of America officials couldn't be reached Wednesday.

Brian Bemus, administrator of the Oregon Corrections Department's classification and transfer division, said Oregon does not intend to remove the remaining inmates.

"We don't feel its an unsafe place to have our women," Bemus said.

Lockwood said two counselors and an Oregon corrections official recently visited the Arizona prison to review the overall treatment of inmates.

The Corrections Department also is considering sending an audit team within the next few weeks. "The main thing we want to find out is, what are they doing to make sure this doesn't happen again," Lockwood said.

Bemus said officials at the private prison had already taken significant corrective action, such as no longer having male employees supervise female inmates in the segregation unit.

With revenues topping $120 million a year, Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, is the largest private prison operator in the country.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based company runs more than two dozen prisons in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Disturbances and abuse allegations in a few CCA facilities have stirred controversy.

Bemus said Oregon's transfer arrangement with the Arizona lockup, the state's only deal with a privately run prison, generally had gone smoothly.

"This is the most serious thing we've had," he said.

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