By Larry Neumeister
The National Law Journal
A former warden at the only all-female prison in California faces federal criminal charges after an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department found the man sexually abused a prisoner and also took explicit photos of her and shared them with other prisoners.
Former Warden John “Jay” Harris, 57, was not asked to leave the prison. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the problem has been addressed.
“The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will continue to work with law enforcement to ensure all allegations are fully investigated and appropriate action is taken,” the agency said in a statement on its website.
“The department takes seriously all claims of sexual misconduct and has taken appropriate steps in the past and continues to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.
“In this case, we recently established a task force within the department to ensure that the correction staff are appropriately trained to know that sexual misconduct is never acceptable and that any criminal activity involving prisoners will be reported to law enforcement.”
The prison is Red Onion State Prison, 60 miles north of Sacramento, and it was located on a riverbed in a corner of the San Joaquin Valley known as the Boron-to-Boron Valley. It was originally called the women’s Valley State Prison and began housing women in 1980. Red Onion was later renamed “Facility 29” and has been the only all-female facility in California.
Federal criminal complaints filed in a California federal court in San Francisco charge that on or about June 29, Harris sexually abused a female prisoner in Red Onion. They said the abuse occurred while the prisoner was in the cell of a male warder.
The complaint also said that after the prisoner was sexually abused, Harris sent her an email, containing several explicit photos. He also gave the email to at least one other prisoner, the complaint said.
Harris was fired on the day the FBI informed the department that Harris had been communicating with another prisoner about the prisoner’s abuse. Harris was then placed on administrative leave. The situation was also reported to federal prosecutors.
Harris was arraigned on criminal charges Wednesday in Sacramento. His attorney declined to comment after the arraignment.
A next-door neighbor of Harris in his Escondido, California, home said he wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing by the former Red Onion warden. But she said he had been out of the house for several years. Harris later declined to comment.
In a separate case, Harris pleaded guilty in February to several misdemeanor child pornography charges.
Harris was the warden at the San Quentin State Prison from 2005 until he was fired in 2016.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Harris resigned.