Investigations

An inmate was raped, impregnated by a guard. He was busted. His coworkers blame, harass her.

Anquanette Woodall’s third child was unplanned. In spring 2016, when she was three years into her 15-year sentence for armed burglary and robbery, an officer at Gadsden Correctional Facility cornered her in a staff bathroom near the prison’s kitchen — one of the many blind spots in the facility’s security camera system. He instructed her to pull down her pants, then threw her against a wall and raped her.

To cement her silence, the guard, Travis Hinson, said that he knew the address for Woodall’s mother, the caretaker of her two small children.

The evidence was damning enough that Hinson ultimately pleaded guilty to sexual battery, but not damning enough to spur the Florida Department of Corrections into enacting much in the way of new policies to prevent sexual assault at the hands of the corrections officers it hires, or helping shoulder the cost of the harm those guards cause.

According to Woodall, who has been moved to Lowell Correctional, the FDC would not pick up the cost of an abortion had she decided not to carry the prison guard/rapist’s child to term.

“The rules were, that if I decided to have an abortion, it wouldn’t come out of the state’s pocket. It would come out of my mom’s pocket instead,” Woodall said.

The Florida Department of Corrections provided a policy confirming that. Terminating an unwanted pregnancy, unlike, say, operating to remove a ruptured appendix, is not a necessary procedure and therefore not covered by the taxpayers.

Woodall’s daughter, now 2, is being raised by the inmate’s sister.

Michelle Glady, Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said the actions of Travis Hinson amount to an aberration.

“The Florida Department of Corrections has zero tolerance for any staff who act inappropriately and contrary to our core values,” said Glady. “The FDC Office of Inspector General, along with the leadership at Lowell C.I., have a track record of ensuring individuals involved in misconduct are held fully accountable.”

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Travis Hinson Florida Department of Corrections

Woodall’s story is one of the many accounts of inmate abuse in Florida’s prison system, which is responsible for the second-largest female prison population in the United States. The Miami Herald’s Beyond Punishment series documented rampant physical and sexual abuse of female prisoners in Lowell, the place where Woodall has ended up after escaping the treatment she experienced at Gadsden. The series showed how officers coerce women into sex acts through threats of violence or sheer force, or by withholding necessities such as toilet paper and sanitary pads from women who do not comply.

In the three years since the series ran, it’s not clear that life has improved much for female inmates in the care of FDC. On Aug. 24, advocacy groups gathered at Lowell, near Ocala, to protest not sexual assault, but a violent attack by several staff members on a 51-year-old prisoner, who is now paralyzed from the neck down. Women formerly incarcerated at Lowell have taken to YouTube and social media to circulate their own accounts of physical and sexual abuse at the facility.

In the wake of the Miami Herald’s reporting, the U.S. Justice Department is conducting an investigation into conditions at Lowell.

In an interview with the Herald, which the FDC would not grant unless prison staffers were in the room (the department could cite no rule requiring such oversight and had not uniformly required it in the past), Woodall described the way that officers closed ranks to protect Hinson. She also asserted that his conviction, after a DNA test tied him to the attack and subsequent pregnancy, made her a target for officer abuse in the FDC system.

“The doctor said, ‘Your pregnancy tests came back positive,’ and I told her, ‘That’s impossible,’ still trying to cover it up,” said Woodall. “And she was like, ‘Well, there’s a rumor that you’ve been going around and sleeping with a lot of officers, being a slut.’ I just started crying then.”

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The U.S. Department of Justice told the state of Florida in 2018 that conditions at Lowell Correctional were under federal investigation.

During her pregnancy, Woodall remembers getting messages from Gadsden, close to where Hinson’s family lives. “To a physical degree, it was fine, for a while,” said Woodall. “It was more the comments, what was being said, calling me out by name — slut this, ho’ this, snitch — stuff like that.”

At the time of the assault, Hinson was employed by a labor subcontractor, Management and Training Corporation. Gadsden is a privately run state prison, but under the umbrella of the state Department of Corrections. MTC provided the Miami Herald with a copy of Hinson’s employee disciplinary records, which showed he was reprimanded for excessive tardiness once in 2014, then dismissed in 2016, following the launch of the Inspector General’s investigation.

Prior to MTC, Hinson worked directly for the FDC, where corrections officer turnover is chronically high and the department is eternally understaffed. In July, the FDC reported 2,000 vacant prison guard positions and dropped the minimum age from 19 to 18 in hopes of finding more qualified recruits to fill posts. Salaries for prison guards start around $33,500 per year.

The Florida Legislature has shown little inclination to appreciably raising salaries to make corrections officers jobs more desirable.

In March, Woodall says she elected to stay in administrative confinement — a more restrictive level of incarceration — out of concern for her safety amid escalating verbal and physical abuse at the hands of corrections officers. In addition to Lowell, where pregnant inmates are incarcerated, she has spent time at nearby Florida Women’s Reception Center and at Homestead Correctional Institution since leaving Gadsden.

As the prison staffers took in every word during the interview, which took place at CFRC, Woodall grew visibly apprehensive when asked to describe those incidents of abuse.. However, for each incident, Woodall penned a detailed formal complaint to prison leadership and the Office of the Inspector General, describing guards who berate her, pinch her and, despite their coworker’s guilty plea to raping Woodall, warn her that sleeping around with guards will not be tolerated.

“Officers, they’re like a unit, and that’s how they’re supposed to be. But if you take one of their own down, it’s a problem,” she said.

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Anquanette Woodall Florida Department of Corrections

Thus far, the prison system has dismissed each of Woodall’s complaints as unfounded.

Conflicting accounts between inmates and guards do not carry the same weight. “What they say — officers or officials — it’s called a statement of facts, but if I say it, it’s called an allegation.”

To those who might wonder why male corrections officers are overseeing female prisoners, Glady said the department is not allowed to discriminate.

“[The Department of Corrections] is required by law to provide equal employment opportunities for men and women. Facilities have gender-specific assignments, search protocols and other policies in place to safeguard inmates’ privacy with respect to their gender.

“The department hires correctional officers who have completed a background check in accordance with Florida statutes and can meet the necessary qualifications for the job. Officers are provided extensive training, and gender-specific training is required for officers assigned to a female facility. This training is conducted during onboarding and required annually thereafter,” she said.

Of the 515 officers assigned to Lowell, 265 are male.

In 2012, the Bureau of Justice Statistics implemented national standards for reporting sexual harassment and assault in United States correctional facilities. Between 2012 and 2015, the most recent year for which statistics were available, BJS says inmates in federal and state prisons filed nearly 28,000 allegations of staff-on-inmate abuse, but only one in every 20 complaints was substantiated. Over a tenth of the allegations are still under investigation, while the bulk of allegations were dismissed as unsubstantiated or unfounded.

The BJS reports reflect only formal complaints filed by prisoners, but many inmates, fearing retaliation, may choose to leave incidents unreported.

In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), to track and discourage sexual abuse behind bars. States, including Florida, have been slow to adapt.

“There’s a price that comes with speaking up for yourself,” says Woodall. “I know one girl, she tried to report a PREA, and she kept on trying to insist that this is what was happening. She got sent back to the dorm with a DR” — a disciplinary report, citing her own misconduct.

After Woodall’s rape, MTC added 30 additional cameras at Gadsden and is in the process of adding 30 more, according to MTC Director of Communications Issa Arnita. Cameras can prevent abuse, although staffers know where the cameras are and aren’t and can adapt their behavior accordingly.

The FDC, despite trusting Hinson to oversee its female inmates, has not provided the Herald with any changes in screening or hiring practices to prevent similar instances.

For the rape charges and a subsequent, unrelated aggravated battery charge, Hinson is slated to serve just over four years in prison and is scheduled for release in 2022. Four years later, Woodall will be released and be able to assume responsibility for raising his biological daughter.

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