POLITICS

Prison Chaplain Won Employee Of The Year While Female Inmates Say He Was Sexually Assaulting Them

Three incarcerated women accused the man of forcing them into sex.
Kenneth Dewitt faces 50 counts of sexual assault.
Kenneth Dewitt faces 50 counts of sexual assault.

In January of 2013, Kenneth Dewitt, a prison chaplain at a women’s correctional facility in Newport, Arkansas, was invited to the governor’s mansion, then occupied by Democrat Mike Beebe.

The special occasion was the “Pinnacle Awards,” an annual event held to recognize achievements of Arkansas’ Department Of Correction staff.

That day, Dewitt, who had worked for the Arkansas prison system for 15 years, was named Employee of the Year.

Yet at that very same time, according to allegations contained in court documents, Dewitt was sexually assaulting three female inmates at McPherson Unit, the women’s prison where he worked. He would continue to prey on women under his control, prosecutors claim, until he resigned in 2014.

On Dec. 17, 2015, Dewitt was charged with 50 counts of third-degree sexual assault relating to three female inmates. He is currently being held in the Jackson County jail.

Kenneth Dewitt, in middle, holds his Employee of the Year award.
Kenneth Dewitt, in middle, holds his Employee of the Year award.

Three women testified to state police that Dewitt repeatedly sexually assaulted them after they became involved in the faith-based program he began at McPherson Unit, called Principles and Applications for Life.

Under Arkansas law, members of the clergy and employees of correctional facilities are prohibited from engaging in sexual contact with inmates. Dewitt was both at the time the alleged assaults occurred.

One woman told police that Dewitt had a schedule for the assaults. One inmate would report to his office on Sunday morning, she said, another on Monday morning and another on Wednesday. All three women described similar details about how the assaults took place.

The Justice Department has also opened an investigation into McPherson Unit, due to multiple allegations of sexual abuse by staff members. Dewitt's attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, told The Huffington Post that his client plans to plead not guilty.

The award that Dewitt won was reported in The Advocate, a publication for employees of the Arkansas Department of Correction.

The spokeswoman for the department, Cathy Frye, said that staff members nominate their colleagues for the awards. The nominations are then voted on by the Arkansas Department of Correction's management team.

 

Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women's health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.

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