Sen. Jake Corman challenges Department of Corrections practices involving ‘noncontact’ employees after alleged rape at Rockview

mcarroll@centredaily.comSeptember 12, 2013 

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Pennsylvania Senator Jake Corman.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT photo Buy Photo

More than a month after a female employee at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview was allegedly raped by an inmate, a local legislator is pushing for a statewide policy that he thinks could have prevented what has been called a brutal assault.

The 24-year-old woman was working as a clerk typist in a housing area of the prison July 25 when she was attacked from behind by an inmate on a work assignment collecting garbage cans, according to state police.

State Sen. Jake Corman is questioning why the inmate ever had access to the woman, who is classified as a noncontact employee.

And Corman, R-Benner Township, is asking the state Department of Corrections to implement a statewide policy removing all noncontact personnel and their work stations from inmate populations.

“It’s shocking to me that noncontact employees, who are not guards and who have not received defensive training, would have any contact with inmates or be left alone with inmates,” he wrote to the DOC. “This policy must be changed immediately.”

Corman said he learned after the assault allegation that noncontact personnel are sometimes required to work within the inmate population, and that such staffing decisions are made at individual institutions.

“I believe, for the safety of our state employees, that the department must immediately place all noncontact employees outside the inmate populations, at all of our correctional facilities,” Corman wrote to the DOC.

DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said a review of clerical position locations is already underway for all the department’s facilities.

“Each superintendent and his/her staff is to review these positions and provide plans back to the DOC about how they can work to remove clerical staff from housing areas,” McNaughton said in a email.

The department is also working to provide additional resources to staff so they can call for assistance during an incident.

“These improvements are being done because it is the right thing to do,” DOC Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement. “We need to ensure a safe environment for all of our staff.”

McNaughton said the department has conducted an internal review of operations and policies following the Rockview assault, as is standard procedure after any incident.

But, she said, in this case, Wetzel assigned a group of experienced DOC employees to conduct a separate, more thorough review of the prison’s operations.

Rockview state police have identified inmate Omar Best, 35, as a suspect in search warrants filed in Centre County. The employee identified the man as her attacker, according to the documents.

No charges have been filed against Best, and police have released few details about their investigation.

“There was apparently an error in security, and the inmate was granted access to the victim’s workplace,” police wrote in a search warrant.

The employee reportedly had made complaints about the inmate in the past.

“The inmate has made the victim feel uncomfortable in the past and was to be kept separated from the victim,” police wrote.

Best, previously from Philadelphia, has an extensive criminal history, including rape and numerous assault charges, according to court documents.

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, has called on Gov. Tom Corbett to open a state investigation following a series of assaults at Rockview, culminating in the alleged assault on July.

The woman was taken to Mount Nittany Medical Center and was released later the same day, prison officials have said.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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