State prison officials say they were within their rights when they punished an inmate for revealing a guard’s history of misconduct around young boys.
In arguments Thursday in federal court and documents filed earlier with the court, the state Department of Correction said a prisoner’s constitutional rights must be weighed against the state’s need to maintain security within Idaho’s penitentiaries.
The prisons agency was responding to a civil rights suit filed Aug. 23 in U.S. District Court by inmate Mark D. Tapp, 26, who says he is being punished for blowing the whistle on guard Roy M. Redifer, 51, of Nampa.
Tapp’s suit argues that Redifer and seven other Correction Department officials contributed to an atmosphere that allowed the guard to sexually molest him earlier this year.
Tapp wants out of solitary confinement, where he has been held for about three months since refusing to submit to a polygraph examination. He said prison officials would not allow his attorney to be present during the exam.
“An inmate’s right of free speech is not absolute,” Deputy Attorney General Timothy McNeese maintained in the department’s objection to Tapp’s request. “The right of free speech must be balanced against the legitimate penological needs of prison administrators.”
McNeese argued that Tapp “made serious allegations of employee misconduct against defendant Redifer to the news media,” and that “prison officials have little recourse if they are wrongfully accused publicly of serious misconduct.”
He continued: “In their investigation of these allegations, prison officials believe that they have a right to expect cooperation from the inmate making the allegations, to include submitting to a polygraph examination to assist in the search for the truth.”
Correction officials acknowledged they knew nothing of Redifer’s history of misconduct around elementary school students when he was hired in 1993 as a teacher for the prison system’s on-site high school.
Redifer was reprimanded by the state Department of Education in 1985 after he admitted acting inappropriately around male students at Nampa’s Central Elementary School. Later that year, he was charged in Canyon County with lewd and lascivious conduct with a 12-year-old boy. The charges eventually were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired.
The Idaho Statesman reported Redifer’s history in June. The Correction Department then renewed its investigation into Tapp’s allegations against Redifer, asking the inmate to submit to a polygraph examination on June 6. When he refused, the department found him guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced him to six months in solitary confinement.
His punishment has since been cut to four months, and the FBI has begun an inquiry into Tapp’s treatment.
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