A prison officer’s sick saga

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 11 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:53 am in
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The Gazette Editorial Board

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If the saga of Iowa corrections officer Kristine Sink were a movie, we’d give it two thumbs down for being too unbelievable.

Sink worked in one of Iowa’s most dangerous prison units, where mentally ill inmates were housed in the maximum security prison at Fort Madison. And, somehow, according to an astounding recent report by the Associated Press, those inmates were allowed to watch violent, sexually explicit movies. One film featured scenes where a woman was raped, beaten and skinned.

Sink repeatedly complained about the films, arguing they encouraged the inmates who viewed them to sexually harass her. Instead of taking her complaints seriously, prison officials ordered Sink to not turn off the movies. When she did, she was accused of insubordination.

What the AP report calls Sink’s “lonely battle” stretched on for years.

Sink has now filed a lawsuit with hopes of making it easier in the future for prison employees to file complaints without fear of retaliation and to have sexual harassment by inmates taken seriously. She’s also seeking damages.

Regardless of how the lawsuit turns out, we can’t imagine any valid justification for allowing mentally ill, potentially violent inmates to watch sexually explicit or gratuitously violent movies. While we understand the practical need to keep inmates occupied, there’s no reason for such “entertainment” to be among their recreation options. They’re in prison, not guests in a hotel.

And how many times do we have to watch whistle-blowers who pull back the curtain on governmental mistakes rewarded with punishment and harassment? Based on what we know, Sink was not making ridiculous requests of her superiors. She was, rightly, pointing out the obvious problems spawned by a questionable workplace policy and urged her bosses to fix it.

We, as taxpayers, hope that all state employees would do the same. We expect their supervisors to take them seriously. And when those employees face retaliation, we expect those responsible to be penalized.

Whether you expect our prisons’ primary role to be punitive or rehabilitative, it’s tough for us to understand how allowing access to these movies fits into either category.

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