Private Prison Staff Accused of Spying on Inmates in Toilets and Showers

By Khushbu Shah, The Guardian

Corey Donaldson said he had not made allegations at other prisons during his five years in detention across the US. Photograph: Anonymous/Associated Press

Corey Donaldson said he had not made allegations at other prisons during his five years in detention across the US. Photograph: Anonymous/Associated Press

A former detainee at a prison for immigrants in rural Georgia alleges he and other detainees were the victims of sexual harassment and voyeurism by employees of CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison contractors in the US.

Corey Donaldson, an Australian national, was held at the McRae correctional facility in McRae-Helena, Georgia, for a handful of months of his five-year sentence before he was deported to Australia in July 2018.

Between September 2017 and February 2018, he alleged in a statement to the Guardian: “McRae staff were physically peering upon immigrant inmates in the toilets and showers and knowingly recording video streams of inmates taking showers and using the toilets 24/7.”

Before his removal proceedings to Australia, Donaldson filed multiple informal and formal grievances to CoreCivic, according to documents obtained by the Guardian, citing the Prison Rape Elimination Act (Prea) and its policy on sexual harassment.

Donaldson told the Guardian he had not made these allegations at other facilities during his five years in detention across the US. “Other facilities use guards to roam the shower and toilet areas for security purposes, who zip in and out, which is the norm,” he said.

Explaining why he was highlighting these allegations nearly a year after his deportation, and with no legal recourse available to him, he wrote: “I believe it is my duty to expose what is happening in honor of those immigrant inmates I left behind.”

The McRae correctional facility is one of 11 contract prisons under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP). According to the BoP website: “The majority of BoP inmates in private prisons are sentenced criminal aliens who may be deported upon completion of their sentence.”

The BoP abides by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (Prea) of 2003, which was passed to address issues of sexual harassment in prisons.

In Donaldson’s statement, he claimed, “At McRae C.I. the zoom cameras above the toilets and showers were acutely positioned to maximize the capturing of intrusive footage of immigrant men performing very private bodily functions while taking showers and sitting or standing using the toilets. Images were recorded for a debased data library, and to induce abject humiliation.”

Voyeurism is listed under the Prea definition of sexual harassment as: “[An] invasion of privacy of an inmate, detainee, or resident by staff for reasons unrelated to official duties, such as peering at an inmate who is using a toilet in his or her cell to perform bodily functions; requiring an inmate to expose his or her buttocks, genitals, or breasts; or taking images of all or part of an inmate’s naked body or of an inmate performing bodily functions.”

CoreCivic did not respond to the allegations levelled by Donaldson individually. But Amanda Gilchrist, the director of public affairs said in a statement: “Corey Donaldson’s allegations of sexual harassment during his period of incarceration at McRae correctional facility were fully investigated and his claims were determined to be unsubstantiated and without merit. His additional allegations are baseless and we strongly refute all claims made by Mr Donaldson.”

CoreCivic, in its latest Prea audit report, from 2017, concludes no sexual harassment claims – substantiated, unsubstantiated, unfounded or pending – were made that year at the McRae correctional facility. The report for 2018 has not been released yet, according to Gilchrist.

“McRae correctional facility operates in full compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations, codes and policies, including the Prison Rape Elimination Act. In addition, McRae maintains continued compliance with all ACA standards and Prea policies,” she added.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about Donaldson’s allegations.

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