Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

‘Rampant’ sexual abuse epidemic at Florida prison holding Ghislaine Maxwell, report says

US Senate report found abuse at federal prisons and lack of accountability

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 25 April 2023 20:28 BST
Trailer: Surviving Jeffrey Epstein

In July of 2022, Ghislaine Maxwell arrived to serve her 20-year prison sentence for sex trafficking at FCI Tallahassee, a low-security federal women’s prison in Florida.

The British socialite had been convicted of child abuse and sex trafficking for her time spent coercing women and girls, one as young as 14, into the clutches of Jeffrey Epstein, the deceased billionaire who was arrested for a sweeping sex ring and awaiting trial before his 2019 suicide in prison.

Now, Maxwell, 61, was arriving at a facility with its own infamous record of sexual abuse.

Despite some portrayals of FCI Tallahassee as an amenity-filled “Club Fed,” the low-security prison has been the site of well-documented and pervasive sexual abuse, according to an investigation from criminal justice news site The Appeal.

“Sex­u­al abuse is ram­pant here,” Rachel Padgett, who’s been housed in the facility for the last six years, told the publication. “Abuse of fe­male in­mates by male staff is out of con­trol.”

Since 2012, the prison has received more than 130 complaints of staff-on-prisoner abuse, one of the highest rates of any facility in the country, according to the investigation.

Since 2006, at least nine prison officials have been convicted of sexual abuses against female inmates, with many more credible allegations being settled out of court, according to legal records reviewed by The Appeal. Other claims never saw the light of day, as inmates allegedly faced intimidation for attempting to report abuse or even discussing issues with their families on prison phone lines.

“The BOP is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our staff, and the public,” a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) told the publication. “Allegations of staff misconduct are referred for investigation, as warranted.”

In one infamous incident from 2006, a prison guard at FCI Tallahassee opened fire and killed a Department of Justice officer after federal agents moved in to arrest a group of six prison guards indicted for raping inmates then attempting to cover up the abuse.

More recently, in 2021, a former food service foreman at the facility, Phillip Golightly, got two years in prison for abusing an inmate in November 2019, according to the Associated Press.

A year later, a former recreation specialist at the prison named Jimmy Lee Highsmith was sentenced to four years in prison for sexually abusing an inmate for a period of four years.

Maxwell has complained of being abused herself while in prison.

According to her lawyers, while in detention at a facility in New York after her 2020 arrest, Maxwell was harassed with sudden and frequent changes of the light inside her cell, excessive searches, and invasive pat-downs.

The problem is not unique to FCI Tallahassee.

In 2022, an investigation in the Senate found an epidemic of abuse inside federal prisons. BOP employees abused female prisoners in at least 19 of the 29 federal prisons over the last decades, while hundreds of sexual abuse charges were part of an 8,000-case backlog of internal affairs investigations, according to the report.

“I was sentenced and put in prison for choices I made — I was not sent to prison to be raped and abused,” testified Briane Moore, who was repeatedly assaulted at a prison in West Virginia, then told she would be blocked from transferring to a facility near her family if she challenged the abuse.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in