Inmates prefer Kentucky, some say


POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

Most of the Hawaii inmates at a Kentucky women's prison are asking to remain there, saying they feel safe despite allegations of rape by prison guards, said a Hawaii Department of Public Safety official.

“;The majority want to remain,”; said Public Safety Deputy Director Tommy Johnson, who was part of a team sent to Kentucky to investigate the rape claims.

When he visited Otter Creek Correctional Complex in Wheelwright, Ky., the week of July 5, many of the 22 Hawaii inmates who asked to speak to him individually, as well as those he spoke to in groups, asked whether they could stay.

Also, the Star-Bulletin received letters and a petition, purportedly signed by 109 of 168 Hawaii inmates at Otter Creek, saying they do not want to be transferred to a Hawaii prison.

“;I have just been informed that I am one of 40 women who will be prematurely sent back to Hawaii as a direct result of the 'rape' allegations by a couple of inmates (who for whatever reason do not appear to be going back with us),”; says an anonymous letter dated Aug. 4 from an inmate.

The letters and petition say the women prefer remaining at Otter Creek because they are benefiting from self-improvement programs unavailable in Hawaii.

The Community Alliance on Prisons held a protest July 10 at the state Capitol, demanding the state bring the women inmates home.

Kat Brady of the Community Alliance, which advocates for the humane treatment for Hawaii prisoners, believes the carefully written documents are suspect. “;A petition coming out of a prison? Come on, they don't allow that kind of stuff,”; she said.

Brady says the wording of the typewritten letters suggests they were not authored by inmates.

After similar letters were sent last year, Brady said she received calls from inmates saying, “;We didn't know what we are signing.”;

But Brady said some women have told her they want to stay because of the programs.

Pat Clough, a volunteer who teaches creative writing and language arts at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua, said that invariably “;the women who come back say they wish they could stay longer”; at Otter Creek.

Clough receives letters from inmates who say being far from their families' dramas allows them to focus on themselves, work on education and on their recovery “;without the draw or demands of their family.”;

State Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, has called for a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow in Conference Room 229 at the state Capitol on the allegations of sexual assaults at Otter Creek.

Espero said he would like to learn the results of the investigation of the rape claims by the state team.

Johnson said he could not disclose the results of the investigation as it continues, but did say three rape cases allegedly involving prison guards and Hawaii inmates have been turned over to local police in Kentucky, including a June case.

Kentucky's corrections officials have hired a veteran Kentucky warden as an on-site monitor for the prison as a result of the recent allegations, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Tuesday.

According to the letters and petition, the prisoners do not fear for their safety because they contend the alleged rapes by the guards are consensual sex, “;not literal rape.”;

Inmate Michelle Padilla wrote that an inmate alleging rape had consensual sex with a guard and is manipulating the system — to sue the state and the Corrections Corp. of America, the prison's operator, for money or a plane ticket to Hawaii. “;The bad acts of a few are affecting the majority,”; Padilla said.

The law, however, regards any sexual contact between a guard and a prisoner as rape, a misdemeanor in Kentucky but a felony in Hawaii, said Johnson.

Inmate Pania Kalama-Akopian wrote to Espero alleging a vicious rape June 13 in the medical segregation unit in which an officer “;premeditated his savage attack by timing his entrance into my cell”; when no one was around. He allegedly burst into her cell, lunged at her and raped her, then forced her to perform oral sex.

She says four other Hawaii women have come forward with allegations against the same guard.

If the women come back to Hawaii, there is not enough room for them at the Kailua prison, but Johnson said “;we would make room”; between the state facilities and the federal detention center at the airport.

Gov. Linda Lingle said in July that bringing prisoners home would cost hundreds of millions of dollars that the state does not have. The state has spent $3.9 million to transfer and house female inmates at Otter Creek since October 2005.

Johnson emphasized that the Public Safety Department's “;overall concern is the safety and security of the inmates.”;

In the last few years the Women's Community Correctional Center has begun offering more programs similar to those available at Otter Creek, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, he said, the department is performing its normal rotation, bringing male and female prisoners back from the mainland when they are near the end of their minimum sentences, or to enter work furlough programs.