The Pennsylvania attorney general's office will begin a criminal investigation of the Lackawanna County Prison. Several former prisoners have alleged instances of sexual abuse and harassment by staff at the prison, both while they were incarcerated and during work release and probation. They filed a civil lawsuit in 2015 naming 50 people as responsible for the abuse and a subsequent cover-up.
Usually, the District Attorney's office would be responsible for the criminal investigation. However, Lackawanna County requires the DA to be on the board of the Lackawanna County Prison. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, therefore, the investigation will be headed to the Pennsylvania's Attorney General's office.
The victims, who are women, also claim that the Lackawanna District Attorney's staff failed to present all relevant evidence to a grand jury.
Six corrections officers have been placed on leave pending the results of the investigation. A special investigator appointed by the Lackawanna County prison board recently found no wrongdoing on the part of the warden. Such a finding does not mean the civil lawsuit will not move forward, however, or that the Attorney General's office will not find any evidence that could lead to criminal charges against staff at the prison.
Prisoners do not lose their right to be free from abuse
Sexual predators target people and children who are vulnerable. Instances of sexual abuse often involve people in authority taking advantage of their position. Many instances of abuse occur in religious institutions, athletics and education. Inmates are in a similar vulnerable position, and the law protects inmates from abuse.
Options for victims
Civil lawsuits are one option for victims to hold their abusers accountable. A civil lawsuit is different from a criminal prosecution. A lawsuit can help victims recover compensation for their pain and suffering, medical expenses and other costs. It can also shine a light on abusers and help prevent future instances of abuse. In some cases, such as the current situation involving the Lackawanna County Prison, a civil lawsuit can also lead to a criminal investigation.