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Female Trouble

A guard's acquittal, new leadership -- and more allegations of misconduct at YOS.

Coleman isn't sure what he will do next, but he knows it won't be a job in corrections. "I will never put myself in an environment where I can be accused like that again," he says. "I thought I was making a difference. I've since learned that you can't fix everything. Some people can't be fixed."

Recently the DOC has taken a few drastic steps to try to fix its YOS problems -- and possibly save the program, which is up for sunset review in the state legislature next year. Shortly before Gomez left, the DOC brass announced that the six girls currently in the program would be moved to a special unit at an adult women's prison in Cañon City. Whether the agency would try to provide the girls with the special YOS regimen of discipline and education within the confines of that prison or eventually move them to an all-girl contract facility in another state (the process that YOS girls went through before the program relocated to Pueblo) has not been decided.

DOC spokeswoman Alison Morgan says the move is in response to a recommendation made in an audit of YOS issued last November by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. Noting the history of assaults, safety issues and a lack of "gender-specific programming" for the small female population, the report urged the DOC to move the girls.

But in February, Gomez denied that there were any plans to move the girls, insisting that improvements in security measures, such as adding cameras and female staff to the girls' wing, had addressed the safety problems. And a move to an adult prison is hardly what the auditors had in mind: Another section of the same report chided administrators for permitting too much contact between the adolescent residents and adult prisoners housed on the grounds, in violation of the program's statutory requirements that participants be housed separately "and not brought into daily physical contact with adult inmates."

Although Morgan says the move has been in the works for some time, recent events may have hastened the girls' departure. The latest investigation of alleged staff misconduct has led to the placement of two guards, Trenton Lutz and Miranda Smith, on paid administrative leave. Sources say the accusations against them have to do with female residents being plied with alcohol, nude pictures being taken, and some pictures later turning up in residents' rooms.

If the accusations are true, then the sexual-misconduct problems within YOS, which Westword first reported on in 1999, are still awaiting a permanent fix. Based in part on those problems, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a network of more than eighty state activist organizations, has recently lobbied the state legislature to conduct an investigation into "the issue of sexual abuse and misconduct against women in detention in Colorado."

For related stories please see Crime and Punishment

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