Early on October 24th, 2021, 28 women at Clark County jail experienced a “night of terror” and claim in a federal lawsuit that they were sexually assaulted and some even raped by other male inmates. The women are suing Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel and Clark County Jail Officer David Lowe in two federal cases. The women have alleged that officer Lowe gave his keys to male inmates for $1,000 allowing male inmates to assault them.
Jail is not a place you end up doing good things, nor is it a walk in the park. Although inmates do not have full constitutional rights, they are protected by the 8th amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates are also entitled to a “minimum standard of living”. Whether you are incarcerated, in the hospital, or in custody by the police you are entitled to some level of safety and security, especially protection from sexual and physical assault. To say this was a systemic failure is an understatement.
The 28 women incarcerated at Clark County Indiana Jail have filed two separate federal lawsuits claiming that they experienced sexual assault, threats, and even rape on October 23rd through the morning of October 24th from other male inmates. According to one of the lawsuits, it is alleged that Correctional officer David Lowe was bribed by several male inmates with $1,000 to let them have the key to the women’s cells. This deal also included that Lowe would give the men free rein over the women’s cells while he turned a blind eye allowing the men to behave and do with the women as they please over a matter of hours.
The male inmates allegedly wore towels and blankets over their faces to hide their identities. They also threatened harm to the women if they pressed the “emergency button”(a button that you can push alerting guards that you need help. This can be for a fight, an attack, or any situation that requires immediate help. The guards on duty are to respond swiftly and immediately as this button usually indicates an emergency) During a matter of hours, the male inmates proceeded to threaten, grop, and inappropriately touch, and even two women reported being rapped. One brave woman decided to push the emergency button. The woman who pressed the emergency button was also allegedly screaming for help. The male inmates left quickly after the button was pressed.
The real insult to injury was that the women were punished after the incident. The women lost their “dark privileges” meaning the lights were left on for approximately 3 days and they were all punished with isolation. Their personal items were also removed from the women’s possession.
The lawsuits also claim that Sheriff Jamey Noel had failed to properly staff the Clark County Jail and failed to keep up with his supervisor duties on the maintenance of his staff. Attorney for Noel made a statement that the incident was an “isolated incident” by “one rogue staff member. This statement leads to some questions. If you have ever spent a night in jail or have even seen a true crime series you know that men and women are kept separate. This is a non-negotiable rule in most jails and prisons in the United States.
There is also little to no way that Lowe could have acted independently. This incident allegedly went on for multiple hours. Within that time “checks” needed to be performed, which is when correctional officers check and make sure all inmates are where they are supposed to be and are accounted for. It is extremely unlikely that no other correctional officer just did not notice that men were missing from their cells or that the female inmates had unwanted visitors. If this was the case, however, Noel indeed has a serious understaffing problem that no other correctional officers were around to notice.
Litigation is still pending, and Lowe was taken into custody On October 25th, 2021, and has been out on bond awaiting his criminal trial in November of this year. Lowe has not made many public statements, but he did state to the Post that he was “coerced into giving his keys due to being overworked”. He then stated that he was not bribed into giving the male inmates his keys but rather due to being overworked some type of accident occurred that allowed the male inmates to gain access to his keys. Lowe has also claimed that he was “coerced and assaulted into making a false confession”. There are a lot of discrepancies in Lowe’s few statements.
Nothing Lowe could say would be any justification for the allegations against him. Most people living in 2022 are working under extreme stress, working multiple jobs, and are feeling the strain of inflation. This is no justification for blatant inappropriate and criminal behavior. No excuse in the world would excuse creating a scenario where multiple women were put in harm’s way and were ultimately sexually assaulted. It sounds like he is trying to back peddle to try and cover himself and his actions.
No information has been released on the men who entered the women’s cells that night or if they have been charged with anything. Lowe needs to be held accountable and charged if found guilty of the alleged crimes, but the men who assaulted the women need to be held accountable as well. In jails and prisons, you can be charged with almost anything that you would be charged with outside of correctional facilities. If you are found with drugs, for example, that inmate would go to the board and be found guilty or not and then the appropriate punishment would be given. Sometimes the consequences are added time to sentencing, spending time in isolation, or having privileges taken away. Assaults such as these are serious and can often be felony charges.
Injustices like this bring awareness of how flawed our criminal justice system is; specifically our prison system. This also points to the level of prison reform that is needed in our country. This incident also made me think of the infamous Stanford Prison experiment that has been a staple in our criminal justice system as well as in psychology. The outcome of this study gave some extreme insights into the power dynamic that can happen between inmates and guards.
The Stanford prison experiment was conducted in 1971 and the purpose of the study was to “find out whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards (i.e., dispositional) or had more to do with the prison environment (i.e., situational).” Philip G. Zimbardo was the lead investigator in this study. Zimbardo ensured that the participants were the most generally healthy men he could find. Meaning, that the 75 applicants were screened for any mental illnesses, drug/alcohol use, any obvious racial or political bias, and even disabilities. 24 applicants were chosen and were assumed to be extremely well-minded.
There were 12 guards and 12 prisoners in the experiment. This ratio alone, being 1-1 is not typical for prisons and jails in America today. The most recent census from 2005 found that the ratio of guards to prisoners is 10 officers for every 49 inmates. This is important because these ratios will change the power dynamic between guards and prisoners. The inmates in the experiment were arrested by “police” and brought to a mock prison where they were stripped nude (a practice we do today to ensure no contraband or weapons are on the inmate) and given a plain smock and a number to be identified by. Almost immediately the guards took on the role of “punisher”. Which is not uncommon in 3rd world prison systems (think of Abu Ghraib). The guards become so abusive and so consumed in the experiment they began treating the inmates extremely brutally. So much so that the experiment did shut down after just 6 days due to the inmates experiencing PTSD-like symptoms along with dissociative symptoms.
It has to be noted that because this was an experiment the guards did not have any prison guard or correctional training. This is a big difference between the experiment and what happens in jail and prisons. Controversial to what we have originally learned about the Stanford Prison Experiment, in 2018 it was found that Zimbardo instructed the guards to be “tough guards”. This would cause a skew in the results of such a big historical experiment. This experiment can still be useful although the data probably needs to be re-interpreted. Also, this experiment came about FROM increasing reports of police brutality. Brutality and abuse of power had been a problem long before this experiment so we can conclude that there is an extreme problem within our correctional facilities.
Even though the conclusion may have been different than we have all previously thought I think that this means it is not only environmentally or situationally but it is both the individual and the environment they are in that will dictate behavior. Some people cannot cope with power appropriately. Not everyone is suitable for any job they would like, especially jobs in our Criminal Justice System.
It is evident that Lowe abused his power and control to simply gain what he wanted. He allegedly received $1,000 for his behavior and he thought that because of his position, he would get away with this incident without any consequence. It is unknown at this time if Lowe has any psychological issues before or during his employment as a correctional officer. However, the Standford Prison Experiment tells us that anyone is susceptible to becoming warped from power, and entitlement. I cannot comprehend how anyone, regardless of their environment, title or situation can allow other humans to purposefully be harmed. Morally this is just unfathomable to me.
To Lowe’s point, however, and as previously stated, a lot of Americans are feeling overworked and underpaid. Most of them don’t go on to commit heinous crimes. On the contrary, since covid people have found extremely creative and innovative ways to make extra cash. But it should be noted that intense pressure and stress can lead to controversial or bad choices. I think we have all acted out of character here and there when we feel like we are under extreme pressure.
In our society that is riddled with inflation and increasing price of living we do need to and should look at how we are treating employees and what may be affecting their performance. This should be done as a standard for all jobs but especially high-stress jobs such as the criminal justice field, healthcare, social work, etc. There can be different kinds and levels of stressors that come along with these important roles. Do we have to ask what services are provided to correctional officers? Is there training adequate, do they need constant refreshers and re-training? It would be a failure to not look at everything that could have played a part in this correctional officer’s choices.
If this correctional officer thought it would be okay to take a bribe from male inmates to cause serious life-long damage to other women I can only imagine what else is going on in that jail and other correctional facilities. I spent 10 years working in the criminal justice system. I can say from my experience the blue back there own. As humans, we are open to making mistakes. Sometimes intentional and sometimes just accidents. Either way, I have experienced injustices that occurred which were then either covered up by that person’s superiors or just swept under the rug.
A good example I think a lot of us have seen are those videos surfacing of politicians and other government officials being pulled over by the police. They often are pulled over for speeding or even a DUI and the individuals are outraged. Many make claims such as “do you know who I am?!” Or “You won’t have a job come Monday!”. Often but not always, the police officers upon learning who the person is will release them immediately with an apology. This is a prime example of abuse of power. Politicians and government officials are not above the law but often in society, they are treated as such. Unfortunately, they can get people fired. So the threat is very real and this creates a lot of injustices and inconsistencies in our justice system.
These instances were why I got out of the field. I thought that being in the criminal justice system was a way to promote positive change. On the contrary, I felt like I was part of the problem. My moral compass is too strong to work in a criminal justice field that isn’t solely focused on justice.
I hope that these 28 women that were sexually assaulted by the negligence and blatant disregard of protection from correctional officer Lowe receive the justice they deserve. Jail is essentially a holding space before people go to prison. Not all people who are in jail have even been charged with a crime at all. But just as those women are paying the price for their crimes (or will later be found not guilty) the correctional officer needs to be held accountable for his. It is an extremely simple concept.