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Public Defenders Sue Cook County After Years Of Being Exposed To Masturbating Inmates

REUTERS/Jim Young

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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A group of female lawyers is suing one of the country’s biggest jail operators in federal court over years of sexual harassment by inmates, alleging that in many cases their clients masturbated during one-on-one meetings.

Filed by six Cook County public defenders in a Chicago U.S. district court, the lawsuit alleges that at least 200 female attorneys and law clerks have been subjected to “heinous sexual misconduct” at the hands of male inmates in the jail and courtroom holding cells, reports Reuters.

The suit seeks damages and remedial action from The Cook County Public Defender and the Cook County Sheriff for failure to protect the women.

Among other acts of sexual misconduct, inmates “repeatedly exposed their penises, masturbated, and engaged in other acts of sex-based aggression, verbal threats and harassment, and on an almost daily basis,” the lawsuit said.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli, who is named in the lawsuit, had previously sounded the alarm over a rising number of incidents where her staff was exposed to sexual acts by the inmates they were assigned to defend, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Last week, Campanelli ordered all staff not to enter courtroom holding cells, where defendants frequently masturbate in front of female attorneys and clerks.

The Cook County Sheriffs Office says it has been aware of the problem for years, but has been unable to come up with a workable solution.

Jail officials have offered both carrots and sticks to no avail, according to the lawsuit. When inmates were issued special jumpsuits that blocked access to their genitals, they protested by burning the restrictive garments in microwave ovens. A program rewarding serial masturbators with pizza if they went 30 days without another incident only led more inmates to masturbate so they could be eligible for the tasty prize.

More than 200 Cook County jail inmates have been charged with indecent exposure since January, according to the sheriffs office.

“This kind of behavior unfortunately is prevalent in correctional settings, whether in state prison or jails — and it’s not just here in Illinois,” said office spokesperson Cara Smith, according to Reuters.

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