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Sandusky runs risk of sexual assault in prison

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Sandusky runs risk of sexual assault in prison

Because of who he is and what he's done, Jerry Sandusky could be in particular danger of sexual assault when he is sent off to prison this week.

With thousands of inmates raped behind bars in the U.S. each year, statistics compiled by the federal government show that sex offenders are roughly two to four times more likely than other inmates to fall victim.

Sandusky, the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach, will be sentenced Tuesday for sexually abusing 10 boys in a scandal that rocked the university and brought down coach Joe Paterno. Sandusky is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

It's entirely possible that he will serve his time without incident. His lawyer, Joe Amendola, said he expects Sandusky will be housed with nonviolent offenders at a minimum-security prison, and the Pennsylvania Corrections Department said it is committed to the safety of all inmates, though it would not comment on what it plans to do to protect Sandusky.

But it's also true that child molesters are reviled inside prison walls just as they are on the outside, and are often subjected to physical and verbal abuse, including sexual assault. Given the horrific nature of Sandusky's crimes, will the public care what happens to him in prison?

``The Sandusky case is one of those moments when our core beliefs are really tested,'' said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, a group that fights prison rape. ``This is a moment when it's especially crucial to recognize that nobody ever deserves to be raped. No matter who you are, sexual violence and rape is wrong, it's a crime, and it is something we have to fight.''

The U.S. corrections industry has long struggled with sexual violence.

In 2008, more than 200,000 inmates in American prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers were victims of sexual abuse, according to the Justice Department. Male sex offenders were among those at highest risk: Nearly 14 percent reported having been sexually assaulted at least once while incarcerated.

Yet experts say rape isn't an unavoidable consequence of prison life. Justice Department statistics show wide variability in rates of sexual abuse across prisons and jails. Wardens who are committed to ending sexual violence, establishing clear policies against abuse and holding their staffs accountable are likely to see fewer problems.

``It's all about management tone and style and leadership at the top. If you hear about abuse and sort of roll your eyes and look the other way, that sends a signal. If you tell the staff, `I want to get to the bottom of this,' that sends a signal,'' said Jamie Fellner, a prisons expert at Human Rights Watch.

In some ways, Sandusky, who has been held in isolation in a county jail since he was found guilty in June, is not a prime target for assault. Inmates who are young and small in stature are more likely to be sexually victimized; Sandusky is a senior citizen with an imposing frame. Other inmates at high risk include gay men, those who have been previously victimized and those seen as timid or feminine.

A convicted sex offender who spent 10 years in prison and now works with other released sex offenders through the Pennsylvania Prison Society said he believes Sandusky's chances of assault are low.

``Are people going to bother him? Yeah, but a lot of it's going to be verbal harassment - it's not going to be physical,'' said the 52-year-old man from the Philadelphia suburbs, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the stigma attached to sex offenses. ``Because again, he's an old guy; people aren't into that. The verbal abuse is probably going to be significant. He's going to have to have a thick skin.''

Lockups in Pennsylvania and across the nation are under a federal mandate to curb sexual abuse.

The rules, which took effect in August under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, require screening to identify inmates at greater risk of sexual assault - and those more likely to sexually offend - with an eye toward keeping them apart in housing and work assignments.

Prisons must also offer at least two means of reporting abuse, preserve evidence, ban retaliation against whistle-blowers, keep juvenile offenders away from adult inmates, and devise plans for adequate staffing and video monitoring. The presumptive punishment for any staffer found to have sexually abused an inmate is firing.

``You had corrections officials saying it's not so bad, it's not so bad, it's not so bad, and then you had the data saying it IS so bad, it is a problem, it is prevalent,'' said Fellner, who sat on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, the panel charged by Congress with devising the new standards. ``I think at this point, everybody understands this is serious.''

Pennsylvania's policy for preventing sexual abuse dates to 2004. New inmates must be screened, and anyone determined to be at greater risk of sexual victimization is supposed to get his or her own cell, or be placed in protective custody or in a special unit for inmates in danger. Pennsylvania prisons hold about 6,800 sex offenders.

``Inmates and their families should know that we do our utmost to provide for inmate safety,'' said Corrections Department spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

But a scandal unfolding at the state prison in Pittsburgh shows that any policy is only as good as the people enforcing it. And prisons have a long way to go in that regard. The national Justice Department survey found that nearly as many inmates were victimized by prison staff as by fellow inmates.

In the Pennsylvania case, prosecutors and lawsuits allege systematic abuse of inmates serving time for sex crimes against children. The suspected ringleader, veteran guard Harry Nicoletti, faces 89 criminal counts after a grand jury concluded he raped and beat inmates, directed other prisoners to soil the food and bedding of his targets, and committed other abuses while working in the prison's F Block, for new inmates.

Nicoletti, 60, and three other guards charged in the case assert they did nothing wrong and accuse the inmates of lying. The defendants are awaiting trial.

The Corrections Department is compiling data on sexual assault in its prisons and has hired a contractor to study conditions behind bars.

Amendola, Sandusky's attorney, said he hopes his client won't become a statistic.

``I suspect they're going to take precautions against that,'' he said.

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Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg contributed to this report.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Will Radko Gudas be an upgrade on the ice over Matt Niskanen?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Will Radko Gudas be an upgrade on the ice over Matt Niskanen?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today, we look at the addition of defenseman Radko Gudas in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers that sent away Matt Niskanen after five seasons with Washington. Will that move pay dividends? Or lead to some regrets? 

The Capitals had a problem entering the summer. They needed to shed salary to make sure they could take care of their biggest priorities: Adding depth scoring, re-signing at least some of their own free agents and handing forward Jakub Vrana a decent raise. 

For months it was clear defenseman Matt Niskanen was the obvious player to go. He cost $5.75 million per year against the salary cap for the next two seasons. His play was admittedly not up to par for much of last season. 

Niskanen was a reliable second-pair defenseman for much of his time in Washington after signing a seven-year contract in 2014. He and veteran Brooks Orpik arrived from Pittsburgh that year and helped transform a blueline that had lost its way and, eventually, they were key members of the 2018 Stanley Cup championship team. But at 32 and with signs of decline obvious, the Capitals were ready to move on. 

On the surface, a straight flip between Gudas and Niskanen appeared to favor Philadelphia. Niskanen is the one who plays tough minutes against top competition. Gudas for a long time was considered little more than a goon on the ice, a player with an edge who repeatedly crossed the line with controversial hits and brought little to the table offensively. But while signs in 2018-19 showed Niskanen declining, Gudas was playing his way into a larger role with the Flyers. 

They are wildly different players. Niskanen at his best is still a defenseman who can make plays under pressure, skate the puck out of trouble and contribute offensively with 32 points or more his first three years in Washington and never fewer than 25. Gudas had 20 points last season and his career-best is 23.

But the questions isn’t whether you’d rather have had Matt Niskanen of 2014-2018. The question is who would you rather have at the current price for 2019-20? Gudas’ improvement at what he does well and Niskanen’s fade have made that a far more interesting question. 

Niskanen will cost Philadelphia $5.75 million for his age 32/33 and 33/34 seasons. The Flyers better hope he has a rebound season in him. And to be fair, Niskanen did play better the final two months of last season.

But Gudas costs the Capitals just $2.35 million this year because Philadelphia agreed to retain 30 percent of his salary. That savings of $3.4 million was enough to sign back free agent forward Carl Hagelin ($2.75 million) with money left over. That, in turn, allowed Washington to use its limited cap space to add free-agent forward Richard Panik ($2.75 million) and give Vrana his RFA pay bump at $3.35 million. They did have to trade Andre Burakovsky to Colorado instead of letting him sign his qualifying offer ($3.25 million).

But all of that financial flexibility started with Gudas. Is this a better blueline? In part that depends on Nick Jensen. The Capitals at least start the season believing Gudas can continue in the role best suited for him – an above-average third-pair defenseman. There is value in that. Advanced metrics clearly show it’s difficult for teams to get quality scoring chances with Gudas on the ice. Put that in context: He’s usually not on the ice against the opposition’s best. But he shouldn’t be with the Capitals, either. 

Jensen was the player acquired at the trade deadline and immediately given a four-year contract extension. He played the heavy minutes for Detroit last season against better competition and should settle into the second pair on the right side with Washington. If he can’t, that’s its own problem. But if Jensen is the player he was with the Red Wings then it limits Gudas’ exposure and he should thrive as a clear upgrade over the rotating second-year crew that played that position last year (Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey) before Jensen arrived just before the Feb. 25 trade deadline to pick up those minutes.  

The Capitals will still fret about his heavy penalty minutes and his known penchant for getting suspended. But a team that bled high-danger scoring chances even the year it won the Cup needed someone who could help change that. If it comes at an offensive cost, well, few teams are better positioned to withstand a few fewer goals and assists from a defenseman who hardly played on the power play anyway. That’s John Carlson’s gig and he is one of the NHL’s best at it.

It’s an interesting trade. Washington needed the financial flexibility this year and next when goalie Braden Holtby and center Nicklas Backstrom are free agents and will need raises. Gudas comes off the books and that will help. Niskanen would not have. 

At 29, Gudas is also almost four years younger. He doesn’t have the distinguished track record Niskanen does, but that’s not the player he’s replacing. Maybe Niskanen rebounds with the Flyers closer to his career norms and Gudas plays to his relatively limited ceiling or costs Washington games with penalties and/or a suspension. But given the Capitals’ roster as constructed, the cost and Niskanen’s age, it was probably a worthy gamble. 

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Former Redskins backup QB Mark Sanchez retires from NFL to become ESPN analyst

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Former Redskins backup QB Mark Sanchez retires from NFL to become ESPN analyst

Mark Sanchez's days as an NFL quarterback have finally come to an end.

The short-lived Redskins QB backup will retire from the NFL to take a position as a college football analyst on ESPN, the New York Post reported Tuesday.

Sanchez, infamously known as the "butt fumbler," played two games for the Redskins last season after Colt McCoy suffered a season-ending injury. During those two games, Sanchez threw three interceptions and had 138 passing yards.

Josh Johnson ultimately replaced Sanchez and finished out the year as the QB for the Redskins.

Sanchez's career initially seemed incredibly bright. He was drafted fifth in the 2009 NFL draft by the New York Jets where he led them to back-to-back AFC Championship Series appearances during his first two seasons. But his tenure with the Jets only lasted two more seasons before bouncing around the NFC East from 2014-18 until finally landing with the Redskins.

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