Opinion

Our View | Rockview attack demands answers, action

We support state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff’s call for a full investigation into the reported July 25 sexual assault of a female employee at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview.

This tragic situation demands more answers from those charged with protecting the people who work at the prison.

Benninghoff said that while a criminal investigation will generate information about the attack, an outside review would target staffing decisions and procedures that allowed for a situation where a female worker was alone with an inmate who has a violent criminal history.

Benninghoff said he wants to know “how something like this could happen and how we can prevent it from reoccurring in the future.”

We agree.

In the days after Benninghoff’s call for an outside investigation, we learned that the inmate who is the target of the police has a history of sexual violence.

According to reporting by our Matt Carroll, court records show that the inmate identified by the victim as her attacker has been involved in a string of such crimes dating back to the mid-1990s.

He pleaded guilty to rape and robbery in a 2011 Philadelphia case and was sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in the state prison system. He had previously pleaded guilty to a list of crimes from other incidents, including indecent assault, simple assault, aggravated assault, robbery and gun violations, court papers show.

Police records also show that the female employee had made complaints about him prior to the attack.

Police said the inmate attacked her from behind, choking her unconscious. She later showed signs of a sexual assault, police said.

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

They added: “There was apparently an error in security, and the inmate was granted access to the victim’s workplace.”

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton told the Centre Daily Times her agency is conducting its own investigation “to determine how and why it happened and how we can prevent assaults in the future.”

That’s appropriate, and the DOC’s findings should be made public.

But we support Benninghoff in calling for an outside investigation of this incident and Rockview generally.

A prison is a dangerous place, and people who work in them understand there are risks.

But there can be no excuse for what happened here, when a woman who had complained about a male inmate was not protected and suffered a brutal attack as a result.

Benninghoff took his plea to Gov. Tom Corbett, who should step forward and launch a probe of this incident and the Rockview prison. Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said this was the fifth assault on Rockview staff in recent months

“There was obviously a breakdown in security procedures that would allow this type of inmate any time alone with a young lady,” Benninghoff wrote to Corbett in a letter shared with the CDT. “There is no excuse for this, and it never should have happened.”

From the governor down, we must take steps to fix the problems that led to this heart-breaking and avoidable incident.

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