A former prison chaplain has been charged with 50 counts of sexual assault involving female inmates he was supposed to be counseling, Arkansas authorities said.
Kenneth Dewitt, 67, had founded a religious program for women in the state prison called Principals and Applications for Life Programs (PAL) which was designed to give faith and life-skills training to inmates.
Instead, authorities said, Dewitt used his position to intimidate and threaten prisoners into having sex with him.
Three women ultimately came forward to say that Dewitt pressured them to have intercourse and to perform oral sex on him while participating in the program, authorities said.
One woman said she told Dewitt in 2011 that she didn’t want to “do this anymore,” Arkansas Online reported Thursday, citing court documents. She told prison officials that Dewitt said “she didn’t have a choice’ and if she didn’t go along he would make sure she “would not ever go home,” the inmate recounted.
Another prisoner told investigators she had worked as a clerk for Dewitt’s program. He questioned her about her sexual desires, shoved his hand down her shirt, and told her to perform oral sex on him, she told investigators.
The allegations came to light during a one-year investigation by the internal affairs division of the state Department of Corrections, the news site reported.
Dewitt had been allowed to resign in September 2014 after an inmate, who had been released and returned to work as civilian in the prison, wrote a letter to prison officials saying she and Dewitt had been involved in a sexual relationship, according to the site.
Prison policy prohibits sexual relations between employees and subordinates.
An investigation of that relationship led to the reports from inmates.
“We found these women to be credible, and sincerely regret the trauma they have suffered,” said prison spokeswoman Cathy Frye, the website reported.
Dewitt plans to plead not guilty and will be turning himself in within the next few days, his attorney said.
Each sexual assault count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.