IOWA CITY — Administrators let offenders at one of Iowa’s most dangerous prison units watch violent and sexually explicit movies and TV shows for years, despite repeated complaints from a female officer who said it encouraged inmates to sexually harass her.
Murderers, sexual predators and other men housed at a unit for mentally ill inmates at the maximum-security state prison in Fort Madison were allowed to watch movies such as “Deranged,” a horror film that includes a scene in which a woman is beaten, raped, hung upside down and skinned. Among other movies inmates watched were “Delta of Venus,” an erotic film; “Coffey,” which shows sadism and attempted rape; and “Cruel Intentions,” records show.
Despite correctional officer Kristine Sink’s complaints, administrators told her not to turn off the movies or shows. When she did, they accused her of insubordination, according to department records that Sink provided to The Associated Press. One warden blamed Sink for causing problems by complaining, and another supervisor suggested her outfits — a standard-issue uniform — were enticing inmates.
Sink said she has fought a lonely battle under four wardens against movies that caused inmates to become sexually aggressive — through “10 years of misery.” She filed a lawsuit Nov. 30 against prison officials alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace retaliation, seeking an unspecified amount of damages.
“It’s inconceivable. If I had not lived through it myself, I wouldn’t believe this,” she said.
Sink, who started at the prison in 2003 after the factory where she had been working shut down, said the movies played multiple times a day for a week on a television in a common area where 45 inmates could watch. Some inmates would openly masturbate and make sexually harassing comments to her.
Sink said that when prison officials finally acted on her complaints in September 2011 by largely barring movies with sexually explicit content, inmates blamed her and subjected her to a torrent of insults and threats to beat or even kill her. One threw urine on her. Despite the threats, Sink said her supervisors refused to move her to a job where she wouldn’t be in contact with inmates for more than a year. She was finally moved to a desk job last month, after she filed her lawsuit.
Sink’s attorney, Brooke Timmer, said the lawsuit is aimed at forcing changes to allow employees to file complaints without retaliation and be free from sexual harassment by inmates.
“No private employer could get away with this,” she said.
Sink said she began complaining about the practice of allowing inmates to rent or purchase graphic movies to be shown to the unit soon after she went to work there. She filed a formal complaint with in 2007 after the showing of “Deranged.”
“What are we saying to the sex offenders that are already convicted of these crimes and then we provide them visual viewing to fantasize about or to act upon,” Sink wrote to then-Warden John Ault. She told him she has been waiting for management “to fix this wrong and make it right for over four years.”
Sink told Ault, who retired in 2010, that inmates were accusing her of trying to eliminate their movies and suggested a supervisor had let them know she complained.
Ault responded that he took “umbrage” with her claim that management identified her, and said “you, and you alone, have put yourself out there” by turning off movies and complaining. He said it was her who got upset and filed the complaint, even though steps were being taken to select more appropriate movies.
“I question who here has created a ‘more hostile environment to work in’ or an ‘unsecured environment to work in’, as you call it,” Ault wrote. “I cannot disagree with you that some of the scenes in movies have shown sexual violence, especially those involving females, and should not have been shown, and we believe we have tightened up the process to lessen the likelihood of such movies being shown. We must remember, however, that we are an institution of adult males, and much of what we show can be seen on general television broadcasts.”
Sink claims a male supervisor then told her the department had received a complaint from an inmate that her clothes were too tight. Sink says she was humiliated when she was directed to turn around so the supervisor could inspect her uniform.
Weeks later, Ault dismissed Sink’s complaint, saying officials determined the movies didn’t violate the state’s violence-free workplace policy. “As always, we encourage you to continue to report any inappropriate behaviors you may encounter while performing your job duties,” he wrote.
Months later, Sink wrote that she turned off another movie after it showed sexual violence and she found one inmate masturbating in his cell. Another inmate said, “No offense but some women like it that way,” she wrote to superiors. She said such movies jeopardized staff security and hurt the goals of sex offender treatment.
Department spokesman Fred Scaletta said he couldn’t comment on Sink’s allegations. He said the agency prohibits the showing of NC-17 films and requires any R-rated videos to have a “redeeming value.” Unrated shows must be reviewed to ensure they are appropriate, he said.
In 2009, Ault adopted guidelines that allowed movies to be shown in inmates’ cells after 9 p.m., not in the common area. But Sink said Ault’s successor, Nick Ludwick, loosened the restriction at the urging of inmates. Ault and Ludwick declined interview requests.
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In 2011, inmates were allowed to watch the Showtime series, “Californication.” Sink said she objected to sex scenes that “whipped up” inmates and turned off the show despite an order not to do so. Sink said she was investigated for insubordination and later learned she received a disciplinary letter, which has since been removed from her file.