Appeals court strikes down policy found in Nevada’s women’s prison

CARSON CITY — A federal appeals court Thursday struck down a Nevada prison policy imposed to crack down on sex between inmates and correctional officers at a women’s prison that was described as an “uninhibited sexual environment.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that requiring supervisory positions be held only by female correctional officers discriminates against male employees.

“Precluding men from serving in supervisory positions in women’s prisons is not a substitute for effective leadership and enforcement of workplace rules,” Circuit Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote for the three-judge panel.

Howard Skolnik, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections, said Thursday the policy no longer exists.

“We have male lieutenants at that facility,” he said. “It’s been like that since I’ve been director” since February 2007.

John Marcin, a Las Vegas lawyer representing four male correctional officers who filed the original lawsuit in 2006, did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

The policy was imposed at the Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility after an inmate became pregnant by a male guard in 2003. The prison at the time was run by a private company, Corrections Corporation of America, which pulled out of its contract after the scandal.

An investigation by the inspector general uncovered “widespread knowledge” that inmates traded sex with guards for favors and privileges.

The inspector general interviewed about 200 inmates and noted “frequent instances of inappropriate staff/inmate interaction,” and that in exchange for sex, prison staff “routinely” supplied inmates with alcohol, drugs, cosmetics and jewelry, court documents stated.

Jackie Crawford, former state corrections director, imposed the policy after the state took back operation of the prison.

Four male correctional officers — Edward Breiner, Loren Chapulin, Jimmie McNeal and Randy Stout — took the gender restriction on lieutenant positions to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then sued, arguing it discriminated against men. Each man sought more than $300,000 in damages.

A lower court sided with the Department of Corrections and granted it summary judgment, finding in its favor without trial.

The appeals court panel reversed that action and sent the case back to U.S. District Court.

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