A bill increasing penalties for prison guards who have sex with juvenile inmates passed its first committee unanimously today.
It’s currently a Class 6 felony, the lowest level of felony in South Dakota law, for a guard to engage in sexual activity with an inmate. That carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.
But under the law there’s no difference depending on whether the inmate is a legal adult. Attorney General Marty Jackley said sex with an inmate younger than 16, the age of consent, could be charged as rape, but sex with an inmate who’s 16 or 17 would be treated the same as with an adult.
That would change if the Legislature passes Senate Bill 38. It would make it a Class 4 felony, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, for a guard to have sex with a juvenile inmate.
“What we’re trying to say is, this activity’s bad in the first place,” Jackley told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning. “If you’re going to pick on that minor… we’re going to enhance that felony.”
The bill was inspired by the case of Lorenzo Brown, Jr., a former Sioux Falls Storm quarterback and Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center employee who pleaded guilty to sexual contact with an inmate for relations with a then-17-year-old.
“I think most people in the community, coming out of the Sioux Falls case, have said, ‘Why is this only a 2-year felony?’” Jackley said.
The South Dakota State’s Attorney’s Association and South Dakota Families First both testified briefly in support of the bill.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-0 and now heads to the full Senate.