Kentucky's Correctional Crisis: A Web Of Misconduct And Smuggling Among Department Of Corrections Staff

By Tommy Wilson | Thursday, 29 February 2024 11:10 PM
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In a shocking revelation, an investigation into the Kentucky Department of Corrections has uncovered a disturbing pattern of sexual misconduct and other forms of malfeasance among its current and former employees.

Over a 16-month period that concluded in November 2023, an alarming number of staff members were found to have engaged in inappropriate relationships with inmates and were also implicated in smuggling contraband into the facilities.

The scandal was brought to the fore by a report from the Herald-Leader, which procured over 800 pages of internal affairs investigations. The investigation by the news outlet unearthed a grave scandal, with a chaplain facing charges of sodomy and sexual abuse, and a correctional officer pleading guilty to rape, indicating systemic issues within the state's corrections department.

During the 16-month period ending in November 2023, the Kentucky Department of Corrections identified at least 30 of its employees who were involved in inappropriate relationships with prisoners, probationers, and parolees under their supervision. Furthermore, at least 14 more were caught smuggling contraband into prisons for inmates, typically drugs like suboxone and meth, or accepting money from inmates or their relatives in exchange for smuggling.

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These findings stem from an analysis of over 800 pages of internal affairs investigations obtained from the Department of Corrections under the Kentucky Open Records Act by the Herald-Leader.

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One of the cases of employee-inmate sexual misconduct resulted in pending sodomy and sexual abuse charges against the chaplain at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in Morgan County, 56-year-old Todd Steven Boyce, as per court records. The case is scheduled for trial later this year in Morgan Circuit Court.

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A federal lawsuit filed on June 29, 2023, by Boyce’s alleged victim claims that prison officials were aware of the chaplain's past sexual misconduct with inmates but made no effort to stop him. The suit alleges, “Boyce bragged to plaintiff that he had been previously accused of sexual abuse by other inmates and nothing happened to him, so no one would believe plaintiff if he reported him.”

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In response to the lawsuit, prison officials denied any knowledge of Boyce's earlier sexual misconduct and any responsibility for his current criminal charges.

In another case, a correctional officer named Trista Fox, 39, was charged with third-degree rape in December 2022 after colleagues discovered her having sex with an inmate at Kentucky State Penitentiary in Lyon County. Fox has since pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing in April.

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The inmate involved in the case with Fox told investigators that their sexual relationship was consensual and that he had "pursued her." However, under the law, inmates cannot consent to sexual contact with corrections staff.

The leadership of the Corrections Department argued that the number of internal affairs investigations into these matters demonstrates their commitment to promoting accountability among staff members.

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In a brief 10-minute interview with the Herald-Leader, Department of Corrections leaders did not directly respond to questions about inappropriate relationships or smuggling inside the state’s prisons. However, they emphasized that the department takes any allegations of employee misconduct seriously.

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Scott Jordan, deputy commissioner of adult institutions, stated, “The truth of the matter is, if we were not handling these situations in a very aggressive manner, the numbers would not be what they were. The reason the numbers are high is because we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

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In addition to the sexual misconduct, the investigation also revealed a range of other infractions, including smuggling drugs, racial and sexual harassment, and even falsifying reports.

The report notes that the issue is not "unique to Kentucky state prisons." Judah Schept, an associate professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, noted that being a correctional officer is a challenging job, often dealing with "mundane daily tasks and being unappreciated and underpaid and feeling isolated and overworked."

The internal investigations resulted in several firings and resignations. As a result of the 140 investigations included in the internal affairs records reviewed by the Herald-Leader, 62 corrections employees were fired or quit. In 29 cases, employees received written reprimands, verbal counseling, or additional training, according to the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which oversees the department.

James Wells, a prison and jail consultant, explained how inappropriate relationships and smuggling can occur when there is no professional distance between officers and inmates. He said, “Staff have complete control over inmates’ lives. They decide if you get extra toilet paper or extra toothpaste or if you don’t. If you’re in an environment where you have nothing to bargain with but your body when you’re dealing with people who hold all the power, then you might be forced to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do.”

This scandal serves as another cautionary tale illustrating serious issues in our criminal justice system. It also raises questions about the efficacy of current oversight measures to prevent this level of corruption. The fact that Kentucky’s Corrections Department actively investigated and addressed those engaging in these activities is encouraging. But it also highlights the extent to which these behaviors are occurring in the system.

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