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Crossing the line
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 08/27/2007

Heartchain According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released this month, correctional authorities reported more than 6,000 allegations of sexual violence involving inmates in prisons and jails during 2006. Thirty-six percent of the allegations involved staff sexual misconduct, which is any act of a sexual nature directed toward an inmate, either consensual or nonconsensual.

The report is the third of its kind and an annual data collection mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. Now, one consistent finding is turning heads and triggering a new dialogue in the corrections world.

For three straight years, the majority of perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct with an inmate in state or federal prison have been women. In 2006, fifty-eight percent of the perpetrators of staff misconduct with an inmate in state and federal prisons were female. Conversely, in local jails, 79 percent of the perpetrators were male employees.

Adding to this discrepancy is the fact that for the last two years, more than two-thirds of staff incidents with inmates in prisons were characterized as “romantic” or “willing” relationships.

“It seems there’s a gender difference behind these statistics,” says psychologist Caterina Spinaris Tudor. Tudor, who founded Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, has been counseling corrections professionals for seven years.

“While more men might be getting involved with an inmate just for the purpose of sex, it seems more women are falling in love and wanting to have a relationship with an inmate,” she adds.

Tudor believes that psychological differences between men and women may explain why women are the majority of perpetrators in prisons and men are the majority of perpetrators in jails.

“Women have a nurturing side that is stronger than most men have,” she says. “Getting in a sustained relationship with an inmate can become more of a rescuing, care giving, or even mothering behavior. They’re all good things, they just are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The prolonged exposure employees have to inmates in a prison setting compared to a jail may also be contributing to the large number of “willing” relationships.

“People are more cooped up in prison and are forced to share more of their lives with others,” Tudor explains. “Being around the same people for eight hours a day, day in and day out, it’s easy to start bringing your personal needs into the professional workplace, when they should be left outside the gate.”

A key difference between correctional staff sexual misconduct and any other workplace incident is what Tudor calls the “power differential.”

“The staffs are the people with the control,” Tudor says. “The inmate’s future can be in the employee’s hands, so when staff members, male or female, get involved with an inmate they are exploiting that power differential.”

The ability to maintain that power can quickly erode, however.

“Whenever a staff member crosses the line with an inmate, that’s when the inmate can start blackmailing them,” Tudor says. “Inmates can try to make the officer bring drugs, alcohol, money, other contraband, or even intelligence and information to them. They’ll threaten to tell the officer’s supervisor if their demands aren’t met.”

The consequences for sexual misconduct with an inmate are extremely serious. According to Tudor, COs can get fired, be faced with other criminal charges and prison time, or be registered as a sex offender.

According to the BJS report, seventy-seven percent of staff involved in substantiated incidents in 2006 resigned or were discharged. Fifty-six percent of staff involved were arrested or referred for prosecution, compared to 45 percent in 2005. Tudor believes these consequences are becoming more common partly because of the culture of working in corrections.

“Given the nature of the job, people don’t have the sense that it’s safe to talk to someone and say, ‘I’m having feelings for this inmate, I know it’s not right, and I know it’s unprofessional.’ Instead, most will keep what they’re going through to themselves, let the pressure build and then give in to temptation.”.

Coming forward, though, is easier said than done.

“A female correctional officer in Kansas City told her supervisor she was having feelings for an inmate,” Tudor recalls. “She worked through it, but ten years later the staff still acts like she’s an unreliable employee, even though she got help and did the right thing. Regardless, she was labeled a risk, a liability, and weak.”

Tudor says things will only change if people are willing to be more open about the issue.

“We need to change the way we’re looking at it,” she explains. “In general, it is not unusual to have sexual or romantic thoughts about somebody, this is the human condition. We need more training for supervisors to know how to handle this, so they can become a safe place for employees to turn to.”

Tudor emphasizes the fact that if an incident does occur, the responsibility always rests with the staff member.

“With these incidents, the employee is 100 percent responsible. I don’t care what people say about the inmate, they may be manipulating people all day long, but the employee has to step back and ask, ‘What is causing me to buy into this and forget all my training?’”

Tudor advocates a combination of talking to one’s supervisor and outside counseling to help stop an inappropriate situation before it starts.

“I think it takes a lot of professional inner strength and maturity to address these issues,” she says. “We need to facilitate just a brutally honest conversation.”

A conversation that could drastically improve the record of correctional staff conduct, one “coming forward” at a time.

Related Resources:

Read the full BJS report


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  11. spartigus on 04/16/2009:

    There are some officers, male and female that are not in a healthy relationshp ouside of the job; and true to the nature of an inmates, they will pick up on the emotions of officer, and then try to find some common interest just to get close. One of the things that I think all officers should not do is work in the same units or areas for long periods of time. And limit your time at work, meaning overtime pay is good, but too much time with inmates is not good. Develope relationships outside of the job, play golf, tennis, do something with your off time so that when you come back to work you can remain focused on doing your job; and will not fall prey to inmate con games.

  12. tigress on 10/21/2007:

    We recognized a problem about a year ago when we lost 2 in less than 6 months due to relations with inmates and actually had our in house therapist and retired State Jail Inspector put together a class for all correctional staff. We had 1 class just for the female staff. We plan on having it every year. We also add it to new hire training.

  13. jasonmdurham322 on 09/17/2007:

    oops wrong article.....

  14. jasonmdurham322 on 09/17/2007:

    We found the hard shields to be more of a hassel than the small ASP padded bags, the pads reduce injuries to officers and detainees and your dont have to do the hand the shield out bullshit just let it drop. When we first started training with the pads we didnt believe they would work, we now love them! They seem to be working well for us. We go in 5 man stack with the bag man responsible for the upper middle or head, man #2 left upper, man #3 right upper, #4 left lower, #5 right lower. Simmilair to all posts. ....if I said it, I believe it!

  15. CCNNreader on 09/14/2007:

    I work with the South Carolina DOC. I read the recent article on Crossing the Line. It was a very timely article and very much on target. I think we need to not only acknowledge this issue but to move forward to heighten awareness so that it can be more effectively addressed. It's not a new issue but one that tends to get pushed to the side. -Deloris Glymph

  16. co5kaytie on 09/08/2007:

    I was an officer at a maximum security mens prison for almost 4 years. I had to resign because I was considered a "soft" officer. however I performed my duties and was a good correctional officer. I accepted a letter from an inmate unknowingly and was in the process of writing him up for an infraction but did not do so in a timely manner. At the same time "rank" had decided to "run me off" saying I was crossing over. I was not. The letter did not tie me to the inmate because my name was nowhere on it..I am in the process of appealing the decision because I was not counseled or coached or transferred to another area. My justification is I did not blatantly have a sexual relationship or pass contraband of a serious nature (drugs, money, cell phone). I had several good performancae evaluations before a certain senior officer had decided I was not one of his macho robocops and a threat to his regime of "officers who have a power trip that they are God". Any comments? Still a CO5

  17. CCNNreader on 09/07/2007:

    I have worked as a CO in a small (population between 120-130 inmates) county jail for 18 years. Over the years there have been more incidents involving inappropriate inmate-officer activity with female officers, but the female officers have always been allowed to resign due to a lack of evidence. The incidents involving male officer-inmate activity resulted in prosecution. I don't know if this happens in other facilities but this would definitely skew the statistics. -Rinda Ueckert, Hall County, Nebraska

  18. CCNNreader on 09/04/2007:

    Yes I know several officers that have gotten into intimate relationships with inmates and have lost their jobs. Most of them resigned so that weren't charged that I know of. I worked the prison system for 10 years and I can see how inmates try to get into your personal lives to get close to you. They try all kinds of ways from offering you canteen items to compliments, to religion, even money. They try to play on your emotions by playing close attention to your moods and ways. If you read the Bible or have any kind of book they play close attention and ask inappropriate questions. In the prison system a female has to be strong and not be caught up in the game. To the inmate he has nothing to lose and it gives him something to brag about to the other inmates, because he is going to tell, they always do. I have seen nurses, even a female Chaplin get caught up as well as female officers. I learned in the academy that you never give an inmate anything and you don't take anything from them and you will be alright. That's how I have lasted 15 years and I don't allow them to ask me my personal business. The inmates tell others that I'm a switch out, one day I seem nice to talk too and the next day I'm all business. I keep them off balance in trying to figure me out. -GS

  19. ru on 08/30/2007:

    Definitely a good article and a subject that needs more coverage.

  20. CCNNreader on 08/30/2007:

    I think this was an excellent article; it would be great to see more specific training for all DOC staff regarding such concerns - especially staff that are deemed most vulnerable to such situations.

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