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Sent: Friday, January 31, 2003 3:55 AM
Case exposes gap in law; man fired, not prosecuted
By MARY ZAHN
Last Updated: Jan. 22, 2003
A mentally ill inmate at Taycheedah Correctional Institution who was impregnated by a prison guard overseeing her was ordered to serve nearly a year of solitary confinement as punishment.
The guard, Matthew Emery, 24, was fired, but he cannot be charged criminally: Wisconsin is one of only four states in the country that does not explicitly prohibit sexual contact between prison staff and inmates.
Legislators from both parties described prisoner Jackie Noyes as a victim and expressed outrage at the way she was treated. Noyes, who has a well-documented history of mental problems, told her family that she believed the prison guard loved her.
The situation is "tragic" and an "embarrassment," said state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee), a gynecologist and a member of the Assembly Corrections and Courts Committee.
Rep. Bonnie Ladwig (R-Mount Pleasant) said she would introduce legislation to make sexual contact between prison employees and inmates a felony.
"How could this have happened, especially to a woman who is mentally ill?" Wasserman asked. "How can a male prison guard escort a female prisoner to a supposedly secluded area, have sex with her with no one watching, and then walk out? For her to be penalized . . . is wrong."
Angie Hougas, a field organizer for Amnesty International, said only Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon and Vermont do not make such actions a crime. Legislation was introduced several years ago in Wisconsin to change the law, but the bill died in committee, Hougas said.
"There is no legislation to cover this and regardless of whether you are a Republican or Democrat, this bill will right a wrong," Ladwig said. "The guard is the one who has authority and control and really holds an inmate's destiny in his hands."
Noyes, 24, confessed to having four sexual encounters with the guard in the staff break room of the mental health unit where she was receiving treatment. Prison officials found her guilty of "sexual conduct, soliciting staff." Emery confessed to two sexual encounters with Noyes, records show. Both termed the relationship consensual.
Emery declined to be interviewed.
The decision to place Noyes in solitary for one year was made Dec. 3 - the day her pregnancy test came back positive, according to prison records. However, records show that she actually has been held in solitary since her confession Nov. 12. Her sentence was cut to 180 days on Friday by the warden, authorities said.
The transfer of Noyes back to the prison's mental health unit came last Thursday after Todd Winstrom, an attorney with the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, protested to Steve Casperson, administrator of the Division of Adult Institutions.
"The initial disposition was not appropriate, and therefore it was modified," Casperson said Tuesday. "This is something we are going to have ongoing discussion and education about."
Casperson said he supports legislation to make it a crime for prison staff to have sexual contact with inmates.
Noyes was questioned about her relationship with Emery after prison officials found a love letter she had written to him in the break room on Nov. 10. Emery was suspended and then terminated, records show, and the case was referred to the Fond du Lac Police Department for investigation.
Fond du Lac Police Chief Duane Johnson said his department would have referred the case to the district attorney's office on a charge of misconduct in public office, but neither Noyes nor the prison officials wanted to pursue criminal action against Emery.
And Jon Reddin, a Milwaukee County deputy district attorney, said that type of charge would not have held up in court because of a 1983 appeals court decision that dismissed misconduct in public office charges in a similar case. There is a void in state law that needs to be addressed, he said.
"It's an inherently coercive situation, so in a true sense the inmate can never consent," Reddin said.
State law already makes it illegal for a therapist or teacher to have sexual contact with a patient or student, he added.
Noyes, a high school dropout from Muscoda in Grant County, is divorced and has a 5-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. She has been in prison since 1999 after being convicted of forgery, bail jumping, intimidating a victim and battery charges. Her mandatory release date is in February 2005.
Prison psychological reports describe Noyes as having "low self-esteem" and being "depressed." One report written four months before the sexual encounters were revealed says Noyes "expects rejection and expects others to treat her poorly." The report says she had "schizophrenic characteristics" and "poor coping skills."
"When I talked to her she was very upset, crying," Winstrom, the coalition attorney, said. "They (initially) put her in for the longest segregation sentence they can give. It's a small room, probably 6 by 10 feet. Bed. Toilet. Limited contact with other people. Limited property and activities. It's a lot of time sitting alone. But the bigger question is how did this happen? Who was watching?"
Emery was supervising Noyes, who was assigned to pick up garbage in offices of the mental health unit, Winstrom said. No other officers were aware of the sexual contact, said Bill Clausius, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. He said prison officials were unaware Emery had written letters to Noyes.
Noyes claims Emery gave her six typewritten letters either personally or slipped under her cell door. The letters were steeped in sexually explicit language, copies obtained by the Journal Sentinel show.
"Girl, you just don't know how good it felt to hold you in my arms and kiss you again," one of the letters reads. "But you seem to be holding back this time, what's up with that?"
Noyes' mother, Diane Teach, said her daughter had been treated for psychological problems since she was 2 years old. She has twice attempted to commit suicide while in prison.
"She doesn't know who to trust," Teach said. "It makes me sick. Do you know how much more degraded and humiliated she's going to feel? This guy used her just like they do on the streets."
Noyes lost a week's worth of telephone privileges as the result of a Dec. 22 incident when she complained of severe abdominal cramping, Winstrom said. She was moved to an observation cell after a prison doctor was called and medication ordered, records show.
Prison guards reported that she had no difficulty walking and did not complain of "any discomfort" during the move. Noyes later stood at her cell door and yelled loudly to other inmates, saying, "Call my mom and tell her what they are doing to me," creating a disruption, the records state.
A conduct report accusing Noyes of lying to staff was then filed. That accusation was dropped, and Noyes' conduct was instead found to be disruptive, authorities said.
"She's very emotionally confused," Winstrom said. "She goes back and forth. Sometimes she is able to feel clearly that she had been manipulated and used, and other times she still has feelings for him. It's very confusing for her."
Letters Noyes sent to her mother documenting her weeks in solitary are filled with fear, anger, anxiety and sadness and a belief that she was being harassed by friends of the fired officer.
"Yeah I was wrong," Noyes wrote in one of the letters to her mother. "But they are a lot more wrong. I was supposed to be safe and now I'm pregnant."
A version of this story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Jan. 22, 2003