Sandusky likely attractive target for prison violence
HARRISBURG — Jerry Sandusky will enter the state prison system a marked man.
His notoriety as a child molester makes him a target for violence from inmates looking to make a name for themselves, corrections experts and former prosecutors say.
Keeping Sandusky safe is “a nightmare for the prison system,” said Jeff Eiser, a Cincinnati corrections consultant and expert witness. “For the rest of his life, he'll be a target.”
A judge will sentence Sandusky, 68, a former Penn State assistant football coach, on Tuesday in Centre County Court for molesting 10 boys over 15 years. With 45 convictions, he'll likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Sandusky, who has maintained he's innocent, plans to address the judge during the proceeding. “What I anticipate he'll say is he's innocent,” Sandusky attorney Joe Amendola said outside the courthouse on Monday afternoon.
On the eve of his sentencing, he released a recorded statement from prison that said, among other things, “In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged, disgusting acts.”
Nonetheless, “I'd be shocked if he didn't” receive what amounts to a life sentence, said Jay Abom, a Harrisburg criminal defense attorney and former assistant district attorney in Cumberland County.
In prison, an inmate can rise in the “pecking order” by taking out a prisoner of Sandusky's status, Eiser said.
Child molesters in prison culture often are subject to threats and attacks, said Abom, who has experience in child abuse cases.
From 2007 to 2012, there were four inmate homicides committed by other inmates in Pennsylvania state prisons: two in 2010 and two in 2012, according to department figures. One of those killed was serving time for a sex-related offense, but spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said, “It is not clear that the reason for the homicide was the sex-related offense.”
“Look, prisons are by definition full of bad people,” said University of Pittsburgh Law School professor John Burkoff. “And lots of those bad people are troubled people, too, people who realize that they can get their names on the news if they hurt Jerry Sandusky. The Department of Corrections knows this full well. It will, hopefully, be doing its utmost to ensure that Sandusky does the time behind bars he has to do, but without being himself harmed or molested by guards or other inmates.”
“Every inmate's safety is important to the department,” said McNaughton. “Regardless of what they are sentenced for, we are going to keep them safe.”
Sandusky will likely be placed in protective custody, which is tantamount to solitary confinement, said Roberto Hugh Porter, director of research and a criminal justice professor at the University of Central Florida. Experts say that's likely to be in a medium-security facility.
That means he would spend 23 of 24 hours a day alone in a cell, with one hour of exercise — usually alone in a fenced area. Showers and meals would be supervised and contact with other inmates would be limited, if allowed at all, experts said.
Those in protective custody are allowed visitors, McNaughton said.
Since his conviction in June, Sandusky has been in the Centre County Correctional Facility. After sentencing, Sandusky will be processed and undergo evaluations in Camp Hill State Correctional Institution for weeks or months before officials assign him to a prison, McNaughton said.
While some have speculated that, because of his age, Sandusky will be sent to a geriatric prison near Somerset, McNaughton said that's not necessarily the case. The State Correctional Institution Laurel Highlands also has a “general population” of other inmates, she said.
Every prison has special needs units for inmates with unusual situations, she said.
It's impossible to make 100 percent guarantees for the safety of notorious inmates, Eiser said.
Former priest John Geoghan, a convicted child molester, was in protective custody when he was strangled and stomped to death in his cell in a Massachusetts prison in 2011.
Serial killer and rapist Jeffrey Dahmer, whose victims included boys and men from 14 to 33, was beaten to death with a broomstick handle in 1994 in a Wisconsin prison.
In May, Francisco Javier Aguilar, who sexually assaulted a child, was found hanged in his cell in a California state prison. Authorities suspect his cellmate of murder.
Child abusers are reviled by other inmates for different reasons. “When I worked with some sex offenders 35 years ago at North Florida Evaluation & Treatment Center in Gainesville, I asked that question once. I got two basic answers,” Porter said. “First, the guys who were in for assaulting women believed the women had the power to resist, or that it was all a mistake and the men were paying for it; kids are always victims and can't really fight off an adult. So, it seemed to come down to the fact that the child molesters were picking on helpless kids,” Porter said.
Before Sandusky is sentenced, a hearing will be held to determine whether he is a sexually violent predator under Megan's Law, which would subject him to strict reporting requirements if he is ever released from prison.
But that's highly unlikely.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and firstname.lastname@example.org.