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This is News? Prison Sex Abuse Violates the Constitution

It should seem obvious, but some federal courts (a lot, actually) have missed the fact that intentional sexual touching of an inmate by a guard for the purpose of sexual gratification or humiliation violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Law Office of Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma and Perlmutter & McGuinness, P.C., pushed that idea in Crawford v. Cuomo, a lawsuit brought 2013 on behalf of two inmates at Eastern Correctional Facility. The inmates charged a guard with sexually abusing them by fondling their genitals during unnecessary searches. The plaintiffs also faulted prison administrators for tolerating the abuse despite repeated complaints from other inmates. The district court in Albany dismissed the case last year.

But, as reported in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit today. The court ruled that “no amount of gratuitous or sexually‐motivated fondling of an inmate’s genitals―even if limited in duration or conducted through the inmate’s clothes […]― is permitted by the Constitution.” In doing so, the appeals court clarified the law, holding that an old 1997 case would come out differently under today’s standards of decency. Most importantly, the court made clear that prisoners have a right to sue in federal court for sexual fondling. “The sexual abuse of prisoners,” the Court wrote, “once overlooked as a distasteful blight on the prison system, offends our most basic principles of just punishment.”

As a result of the decision, the victims of the abuse, who are both now on parole, will be permitted to pursue their case in federal court. Click here to read the whole opinion.