At 27 years old, a former jail guard for the St. Clair County Jail will have to register on the Michigan sex offender registry for life and spend the next ten months in county jail.

In July 2014, Gemma Cowperwaithe worked at the St. Clair County Jail and a female inmate caught her eye. The inmate, who was allowed to leave the jail for work release, would meet Cowperwaithe at her house to engage in sexual activities. Shortly after the relationship started, it was reported and investigated. While the investigation took place, the guard was put on administrative leave and eventually fired. In April 2015, second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges were brought against Cowperwaithe for the inappropriate relationship she had with the inmate.

Coperwaithe ultimately plead guilty to one charge of sexual assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct involving penetration under MCL 750.520g(1). This plea is not only a felony charge but it also requires the former guard to register on the sex offender registry for life under the catch all provisions of the Michigan Sex Offenders Act.

In Michigan, it is illegal for a guard to have an intimate relationship with a prisoner, even when the relationship is consensual, because under Michigan law, a prisoner is not able to give consent. Even though guards and corrections officers are taught that these relationships are illegal, they still happen frequently within the jails and prisons throughout the state. Glamorization of these types of relationships can also be seen on popular shows, like Orange is the New Black, however, these don’t always show the extreme consequences that come with having one of these relationships.

Though these sexual relationships between guards and inmates are technically illegal, our office does not believe that consenting adults belong on the sex offender registry and be labeled sexual predators for life. Our office is proud to be a part of Michigan’s Coalition for a Useful Registry. The goal of the Coalition is to make sure that the Registry is useful and is not filled with offenders who pose no risk to society.

At Smith Blythe, PC, we have experience with these types of charges. Our office defends those accused of sex crimes, such as criminal sexual conduct, including guards that may be accused of having a sexual relationship with an inmate. We are also experienced in filing petitions for removal from the sex offender registry. If you or a loved one are facing charges of criminal sexual conduct, or another sex crime, contact our office to set up an appointment.

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