Former prison chaplain sentenced in sexual assault case

AP News
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Posted: Aug 08, 2016 5:50 PM

NEWPORT, Ark. (AP) — A former Arkansas women's prison chaplain accused of coercing inmates into sex acts was sentenced Monday to five years in prison.

Kenneth Dewitt, 67, was sentenced in Jackson County Circuit Court after pleading guilty last month to three counts of sexual assault. Fifty counts of third-degree sexual assault were initially filed against Dewitt, the former prison chaplain at the Arkansas Department of Correction's McPherson Women's Unit in Newport.

DeWitt resigned in September 2014 after acknowledging a sexual relationship with a subordinate in the chaplain's office.

A subsequent Arkansas State Police investigation uncovered three female inmates with whom Dewitt had sexual relations while he was chaplain.

"The Arkansas Department of Correction has taken, and will continue to take, allegations of sexual abuse in its institutions seriously," department director Wendy Kelley said in a statement Monday. "The Department will do everything in its power to protect the inmates in its custody from becoming victims of any form of sexual abuse."

Dewitt founded the non-denominational faith-based program called Principles and Applications for Life at McPherson in 1998. He previously ministered at several Baptist churches.

According to affidavits for reasonable cause, three different inmates said that while they were part of Dewitt's program, he approached them individually and asked about their feelings for him.

All three told investigators that Dewitt initiated sexual activity on multiple occasions. The women said they would have to sit in a chair with their backs to the office door so Dewitt could see if any guards were coming down the hallway.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in June 2015 that it would investigate allegations of sexual abuse and harassment, including allegations of prison staff engaging in sexual acts with prisoners; prison staff exchanging commissary money for sexual favors or sexual acts; prison staff watching prisoners shower or change clothes and making inappropriate sexual remarks; and prison staff taking inappropriate photos or videos of prisoners.

The federal agency said it would also investigate the treatment of transgender prisoners at the facility as part of the complaints it had received.

Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said the department had not received a report from the federal agency since its visit last year.