By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Four days later, Howard was abruptly transferred. He went from Fremont to the Sterling Correctional Facility, a sprawling complex housing 2,500 inmates. Although technically a high-security prison, surrounded by an electrified "kill" fence, Sterling has a range of security levels for offenders classified from minimum to "close."
Howard had no problems at Sterling the first two months he was there. He was placed in a highly monitored unit, with limited movement and cameras and emergency call buttons in the cells. But when he was moved to a lower-security wing in late April, he discovered that he'd gone from one 211 stronghold to another.
Official DOC reports indicate that there were fewer than 25 members of the 211 Crew at Sterling at the time, all of them housed in either high-security units or administrative segregation. Howard says the actual figure was closer to a hundred, an assertion supported by internal documents and even some staff testimony. Many of them could be found in Sterling's less secure areas, readily identifiable by their shaved heads and copious tattoos of swastikas, shamrocks and even "211" and "CREW."
The group was running large football and baseball pools, collecting as bets the tokens inmates used to buy sodas. They had allies in the computer lab, including the notorious Simon Sue, who at seventeen had masterminded a triple homicide in the tiny settlement of Guffey. Although not a gang member himself, the diminutive Sue helped the gang produce authentic-looking property sheets, Howard says, to explain away the extra radios, clothing and other extorted goods in their cells.
Howard was recognized the first day he hit the yard. Two 211 members approached him. One, who'd been at Fremont, greeted him with a wolfish smile.
"Ghost has friends here," he said.
Based on surveys of jail and prison inmates, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that at least 88,500 adults endured some form of sexual abuse while incarcerated in the American corrections system last year. The surveys provide just snapshots of the inmate population on a given day. A just-released Department of Justice report places the total number of incidents in 2008 at 200,000.
The number of reported sexual assaults in prison is, of course, lower than the survey totals. Much, much lower. Extrapolating from the BJS figures, Colorado's prison system would be expected to have between 600 and 800 sex-abuse victims a year. Yet in a Prison Rape Elimination Act cost impact study, the DOC claims only twelve confirmed incidents of sexual assault in 2008 and five in 2009. That works out to about 25 to 50 reports a year, since fewer than 20 percent of allegations of sexual violence are ever substantiated by investigators.
Corrections officials protest that meeting the PREA standards could cost hundreds of millions of dollars; but reformers say that lack of aggressive enforcement in prison assault cases costs society in other ways, from the spread of sexually communicable diseases to lawsuits. According to a DOJ report, a 1 percent reduction in the annual rate of prison sexual abuse could lead to a "monetary benefit" to society of between $157 million and $239 million.
Rape and coercion have long been regarded as an inevitable part of prison life, particularly among the most targeted populations — inmates who are young and slight of stature, effeminate or gay, the mentally ill and first-timers. Yet the national commission established by PREA found that a number of fixable problems, from poor staff training and inadequate screening of vulnerable inmates to overcrowding and an almost complete lack of prosecution of perpetrators, could and should be addressed to reduce the rate of assault.
Howard's journey through Colorado's prisons points to another problem the commission report scarcely mentions: the utter indifference of many staffers. Howard met with several case managers and supervisors at Sterling and filed grievances over his placement there. The officials have divergent stories about what happened in those meetings and how explicit Howard was about his plight. But their tendency to downplay his complaints and insist that he "name names" helps to explain why the system's number of reported assaults is so low.
The day the 211 member recognized him on the yard, Howard went to case manager David Backer to seek a transfer to another unit. According to Backer's own paperwork, Howard told him "he had a high profile case and that the 2-11 gang attempted to extort money from him in the past...He claimed he did not feel in danger or threatened by anyone at the time of our interview.
"He was also informed if he did have problems he would be asked to go on tape as to who was threatening him...He stated he would never do this and would pay them off first. He then left my office."
Howard says Backer ignored his claims of being extorted and prostituted at Fremont; the case manager told him he should have "kept a low profile." Howard filed a grievance, which led to another meeting with Backer and two supervisors, Joseph Halligan and John Clarkson. Accounts of what transpired at that meeting vary greatly; in a later deposition, Halligan conceded several times that Howard said he felt "threatened," then reversed himself and insisted that Howard did not express any concern about threats at that time.