A state investigation details the cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners at an Alaska correctional facility. The investigation reveals an incident in which corrections officers forced male inmates to strip naked in front of female guards, placed dog leashes around their necks and paraded them around the prison before forcing them to sleep nude in filthy conditions.
In 2013 an inmate at Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward, Alaska, filed a report with the state Office of the Ombudsman, a special department charged with impartially investigating complaints. The ombudsman’s report details an institution run by sexual embarrassment, severe punishment and inhumane treatment.
According to the ombudsman’s report (pdf), the incident began when a group of prisoners were directed to make their beds and clean their cells. A few of the prisoners, upset with the order, broke the porcelain on their toilets, used the pieces to break windows and flooded their sinks with water, forcing the staff to move the group to another segregation unit.
Once the inmates were moved, one of them intentionally broke his showerhead, forcing that unit to flood. The officers pepper-sprayed him, removed him from his cell and gave him 40 days in “punitive segregation” (also known as solitary confinement). But what happened next is the appalling part.
Because of the flooding, and in retaliation for the inmates’ cheering on the showerhead breaker, the corrections staff told the remaining 11 inmates to strip naked. After they removed their clothes, the guards placed what the inmates called “dog leashes” around the prisoners’ necks. They then moved them into a unit covered with construction debris and with blood on the walls and feces in the cells. After being paraded around for a few minutes, the prisoners remained naked for up to 12 hours in the area, where the temperature was “50 degrees at most.”
When prisoners complained to the Department of Corrections, it opened an investigation and assigned the officer who committed the atrocities to look into the case.
The story you have just read is the narrative of the prisoners’ complaints. As always, there are two sides to every story. The ombudsman’s office investigated and deposed witnesses on both sides—guards and prisoners. This is what the ombudsman found:
Allegation 1: Spring Creek Correctional Center staff stripped several inmates of their clothing, attached them to a “dog leash” and walked them through House 1 naked in front of female staff. Staff subsequently placed the inmates in cells without covering or clothing for several hours. This was contrary to law, violating the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Alaska Statute 12.25.070, AS 11.80.220, AS 11.81.900(b)(27), and 22 AAC 05.060.
The Ombudsman determined that Allegation 1 is JUSTIFIED.
Allegation 2: Spring Creek Correctional Center staff stripped several inmates of their clothing, attached them to a “dog leash” and walked them through House 1 naked in front of female staff. Staff placed the inmates in different cells without clothing, covering, or a mattress for several hours. These actions were unreasonable.
The Ombudsman determined that Allegation 2 is JUSTIFIED.
Allegation 3: DOC unreasonably assigned a grievance investigation alleging misconduct to the staff member who was the subject of the grievance, in violation of DOC policy 808.03.
The Ombudsman determined that Allegation 3 is JUSTIFIED.
Allegation 4: DOC staff unreasonably failed to follow required departmental disciplinary policy and procedure 809.02.
The Ombudsman determined that allegation 4 is JUSTIFIED.
In fact, when guards were interviewed and gave their side of the story, the report states that:
The testimony of two sergeants and two correctional officers indicated that staff had been instructed by the lieutenant to remove the inmates from their cells, strip search them, escort them to their new cells, and to leave them in their cells naked with “absolutely nothing” until the following day. The lieutenant disputed that these were his instructions to staff.
Several officers confirmed that the inmates were walked naked from the recreation sally port attached to a cuff retainer or rope and other restraint devices. They confirmed that the inmates were then placed naked into different, empty cells where they remained, naked, for up to 12 hours.
The Alaska Department of Corrections did not dispute any of the findings and agreed to look into getting body cameras and revising policies. As for the officers who violated the constitutional rights of prisoners and broke the law and the policies of the Alaska Department of Corrections ...
Not a single officer was charged with a crime.
Read the ombudsman’s report here (pdf).