In California, there is a new law that allows inmates to sue if they have been sexually abused in prison. The new law allows inmates to sue and look back approximately ten years. Many lawsuits have been filed because of the new law, holding corrections officers accountable for their heinous acts, as The Sun reported. The law was Assembly Bill No. 1455, signed by Governor Newsome in October 2021.
Law in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, a plaintiff can sue for sexual abuse in prison. The theory of the case has to be one of the following:
- A guard sexually abused you.
- The guards stood by and watched you get sexually abused by another inmate and failed to intervene.
- The guards failed to keep you safe from prison abuse.
You cannot sue simply because you were raped in jail—your claim must have a theory matching one of the above claims.
In Pennsylvania, the plaintiff has two years from the abuse date to file a suit.
Differences in the New Bill and Established Pennsylvania Law
The distinction is that the new California law extends the times for victims of sexual abuse far beyond the standard under the federal law in Pennsylvania. The case law clearly states that inmates can sue for sexual abuse, and particularly vulnerable inmates have a great chance of success, such as members of the LBGT community who are slightly built. See Smith v. Cochran, 339 F.3d 1205 (10th Cir. 2003). Also, inmates cannot “consent” to sexual relations with prison guards. And, guards cannot intentionally house more slightly built inmates with known sex offenders and expect to be shielded from liability.
In Pennsylvania in Ricks v. Shover, 891 F.3d 468 (3d Cir. 2018), Plaintiff-Appellant Gregory Ricks, a former inmate at Pennsylvania State Corrections facility SCI-Graterford, complained of continuous sexual abuse and excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. His two claims arise from an alleged incident where, during a routine morning pat-down, Corrections Officer Keil rubbed his erect penis against Ricks’ buttocks through both men’s clothing. When Ricks stepped away and verbally protested to Keil’s supervisor, Lieutenant Shover, Ricks alleges that Shover slammed Ricks against the wall, causing injuries to his face, head, neck, and back. The Plaintiff’s claims were allowed to proceed.
Further, in Shorter v. United States, 12 F.4th 366, 369 (3d Cir. 2021), Chrissy Shorter was a transgender woman who alleged she was stabbed and raped by a fellow inmate while in federal prison despite having warned prison officials repeatedly that she was concerned about being assaulted. She brought a pro se suit under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), claiming officials violated her Eighth Amendment rights by displaying deliberate indifference to the substantial risk that another inmate would assault her. She, too, was allowed to proceed.
Seeking Help After Prison Rape
These are all very serious cases, and while difficult to prove, are important and should be pursued.