>Users:   login   |  register       > email     > people    


Seduction’s Slippery Slope
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 08/31/2009

Unstable ground One of the greatest sources of demoralization for corrections and detention staff is “losing” one of their own to inmates. What I am referring to is the crossing of professional boundaries by staff in ways that violate policy and break the law.

Why and how do these violations happen? And what can be done to help render staff immune to them?

A common boundary violation in corrections is staff befriending inmates. This “overfamiliarity” may or may not lead to sexual/romantic involvement, the introduction of contraband into facilities (tobacco and other drugs, weapons, etc.), or staff acting as messengers between inmates and people on the outside.

In discussions of professional boundaries, psychologists talk about the slippery slope, the boundary erosion between therapists and clients. This term refers to ethical or criminal violations which are initially small, but which may eventually progress to major infractions.

How might the slippery slope process play out in corrections?

Corrections staff do not start out their careers intending to cross professional lines with inmates. The early stages of professional boundary erosion may seem quite innocent. “I just said ‘Thank you’ for the compliment he gave me and smiled. What’s wrong with that?” Or, “Oh, I’ll go ahead and give him a cigarette. What can that hurt? It’s just a cigarette.” Or, “I’ll mail her letter to her kids, like she’s begging me to. Nobody has to know about it.”

Baby steps down the slippery slope are usually taken without stopping to consider potential implications and consequences, and without consulting with peers and supervisors. Even worse, sometimes these first steps down are taken willfully, in spite of dire warnings by co-workers.

Inmates, stripped of power due to their incarceration, seek to devise ways to get leverage in the “system.” An obvious way for them to do that is to tap into the staff’s authority. To achieve that goal, inmates continuously study and inquire about staff, always looking for chinks in everyone’s armor. These chinks may be feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, anxiety about finances, loneliness, or a sense of lack of appreciation by co-workers.

How do inmates manage to work the staff’s vulnerabilities against them?

In the case of sexual/romantic seduction, for example, an inmate might initially offer a personal compliment to a female staff member. On its own, the comment appears to be harmless. Unless one is vigilant, the flattering statement does not raise red flags. The inmate, on the other hand, is observing the staff member’s reaction to his comment. If she responds to the ego stroke with even a hint of positive emotion—such as blushing, a smile, or a giggle—the inmate knows he “scored”, he “got to” that staff member.

By that I mean that the inmate’s carefully guided “missile” has managed to burrow beneath the staff member’s professional armor and struck her on a personal level.

That is the level where our needs for acceptance and worth reside. At that place in our soul people are not classified as inmates vs. staff, but rather as people who satisfy our needs vs. people who don’t. And the persons who gratify us are granted preferential treatment. We are motivated to try to get along with them and not to alienate them, because, after all, they are “feeding” us emotionally.

When staff members allow themselves to receive ego strokes from inmates, they have stepped onto the slippery slope. They have been seduced. They may end up becoming lenient and friendly with these inmates, favoring them over the rest of the offender population in their facility.

As the pattern of seduction advances, professionalism unravels accordingly. Staff members will begin to feel emotionally closer to the inmates in question—more understood, valued or admired by them—than to coworkers or loved ones at home. They might develop romantic feelings for them, derive pleasure and excitement from interactions with them, and actively seek to be in their presence.

Unless staff ask for help at this critical time, they run the risk of becoming correctional statistics. They may become sexually involved with inmates, bring in contraband for them, or even try to help them escape.

Alternately, inmates may “read” staff members by, for example, making comments about money and observing what the staff’s response is. If a staff member shows signs of anxiety or other emotion when money is mentioned, inmates may have identified a potential victim. Carefully placed comments plant seeds in the staff member’s mind about possible “safe” avenues for extra income—”for just one time.” Or inmates might stir up staff’s sense of entitlement. “You work so hard and you make so little money. This is a way for you to get a little extra cash.”

In other cases staff members may give into seemingly insignificant inmate demands either to get them off their backs, or to gain the inmates’ cooperation or even protection in violent settings. When the door gets opened a crack, however, the inmates make sure that it stays propped open. Getting inmates extra packets of even salt can progress to providing them with toothpaste, which later advances to cigarettes, and eventually can culminate to bringing them drugs. Inmates have time to wear down staff’s resolve.

Inmates might also target staff members who seem to be lone wolves rejected by the rest of the pack of staff. The inmate game would again involve flattery—”You’re the best. You’re the only one who’s fair/smart/understanding.” The goal is to offer lonely and disgruntled staff members the semblance of friendship. Vulnerable staff could soon be on a steady diet of ego gratification by inmates, and end up feeling obligated to do them favors in return.

The key to keeping staff away from the slippery slope has several components.
  1. Supervisory staff must ensure that all correctional employees are repeatedly reminded of the stark realities of seduction by inmates. In conjunction with that, staff need to be able to openly discuss this issue during supervision times, in-services, and continuing education trainings. Sharing with one another about ways staff members identified, exposed and countered inmate “games” would help keep staff away from the slippery slope.
  2. Staff need to be alerted against complacency which makes staff believe that “it would not happen to me.” Anyone can be seduced. (”There, but for the grace of God, go I.”) No one is exempt, unless they continually hold themselves accountable for their behavior and even their thoughts.
  3. Staff also need a safety net to fall back on when they realize that they are contemplating committing policy violations with inmates. Several options, such as counseling with professionals educated in the corrections culture or confidential peer support, must be in place for them to get preventative help without jeopardizing their careers.
  4. Staff are responsible for ensuring that they seal chinks in their armor as they become aware of them. This may require a variety of interventions, ranging from asking trusted co-workers to give them feedback about their conduct to seeking counseling to address personal insecurities.
  5. Staff are responsible for looking out for one another. If they sense that one of their team is starting to compromise their professionalism, they need to approach that co-worker with their concerns and support. If the pattern persists, they have to take it to a higher level, as boundary violations undermine the safety of the entire institution.

We all seem to have a phenomenal ability to deceive ourselves. So—bottom line—how could staff tell if they are approaching the slippery slope in their dealings with inmates? The easiest diagnostic test is to ask themselves if whatever they contemplate doing with inmates is something they would be comfortable telling co-workers about. If they intend to keep their activities secret, then that is sure-fire proof that they have left the solid professional ground and are about to slide downhill.

Corrections work can be like swimming through shark-infested waters. Staff need to be vigilant and honest with themselves and others. They also need courage and the ability to think on their feet. And they need to keep from being overconfident. If you think you’re beyond temptation, watch out!

Visit the Caterina Tudor page


Comments:

  1. Best Jail.com on 09/04/2009:

    I am a female and I have been doing this job for 17 years and I work with men and would rather work with men than females. Since you don't work in this environment then you really don't have a right to voice and opinion. We as women are aware that we don't have the physical strength as a man. Our job doesn consist of force for every incident so anything verbal we can handle it and maybe even better than a male officer. Men feel intiminated by other men and will sometimes respond to them differently than they will with a female officer that they don't feel intimidated by. Interpersonal Skills are promoted by management instead of force. There are female officers that some men would rather have than some of the male officers. As far as being manipulated into doing things against the rules my policy is say no and find out later if its approved by management. Normally inmates know what is allowed and what is not and they will try you but you suppose to be in charge not them. I always say to them why would you want me to do something that would make me lose my job. This usually put them on the spot and then they back off. All those compliments and helpfulness means nothing to me and as long as they don't go over board I ignore it, but as soon and the compliments go over the line I correct it right there and they get the message. I'm sure most female officers have been tried and I believe more have then not have handled their business and got the inmate straight. Further more women inmates try to manipulate you more so than males with their kids, crying, and their buddy buddy one minute and your enemy the next minute. I personally don't like working with them.

  2. bippieh on 09/02/2009:

    I am in school for criminal justice right. I am working on my BA. I I have known a few CO's who have fallen at work and lost the several years they have worked to build a retirement. I always wondered how a CO could be fooled by an inmate. They are behind bars. The job is for security. After reading this article it has become a little more real to me. It seems as though there should be on going education in this rena to equip CO's as they comer into contact with the "player". When my husband got a job as CO he informed that the marriage splits were very high in the Co circle. I always felt uncomfortable with my husband working with females. I have written this before, and I know the whole deal of working to make a living, but it seems as though the odds are against a female working a males dorm from the very beginning. Even when my husband was military I was always uncomfortable when he ws working with females so slosely for instance in the first Iraq war, Desert Storm. It seems the female and not to be unkind because I am also a female, but it seems like the males will compromise their position. It seems very natural to me for a man to protect a female much quicker than a male. It seems males cover each other backs but females woul hinder the male soldiers from making responsible dicisions in a war zone while females are present and the same for a facility. The male Co's could so easily compromise their are of responsibility to protect a female. I know women can be as strong as men but that is not often and when a female is she has spent a serious amount of time working out, running etc.I do not know just my personal opinion. I am not slamming women for working we need to provide for our famulies. But this article above had an element of reality and I feel the logic of what I am thinking has some reality. I may be 100% wrong, what do you think?

  3. bippieh on 09/02/2009:

    I am in school for criminal justice right. I am working on my BA. I I have known a few CO's who have fallen at work and lost the several years they have worked to build a retirement. I always wondered how a CO could be fooled by an inmate. They are behind bars. The job is for security. After reading this article it has become a little more real to me. It seems as though there should be on going education in this rena to equip CO's as they comer into contact with the "player". When my husband got a job as CO he informed that the marriage splits were very high in the Co circle. I always felt uncomfortable with my husband working with females. I have written this before, and I know the whole deal of working to make a living, but it seems as though the odds are against a female working a males dorm from the very beginning. Even when my husband was military I was always uncomfortable when he ws working with females so slosely for instance in the first Iraq war, Desert Storm. It seems the female and not to be unkind because I am also a female, but it seems like the males will compromise their position. It seems very natural to me for a man to protect a female much quicker than a male. It seems males cover each other backs but females woul hinder the male soldiers from making responsible dicisions in a war zone while females are present and the same for a facility. The male Co's could so easily compromise their are of responsibility to protect a female. I know women can be as strong as men but that is not often and when a female is she has spent a serious amount of time working out, running etc.I do not know just my personal opinion. I am not slamming women for working we need to provide for our famulies. But this article above had an element of reality and I feel the logic of what I am thinking has some reality. I may be 100% wrong, what do you think?


Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   

Password:       


Forgot password?





correctsource logo




Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2018 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015