|“You Don't Have to Lose”|
|By Contrenia C Fann|
A question was posed to me by an administrator while I was facilitating the workshop, “Common Sense: Do Not Play The Game With An Inmate”. The administrator asked, “What will happen to an employee if he or she reports that he or she has fallen in love with an inmate? Will the employee lose his or her job?” The answer seemed simple, yet it took me a minute to respond. I had follow-up questions of my own such as:
The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, signed into law by President Bush, states that under no circumstances should staff engage in any sexual act of any type with a prisoner, inmate or offender. The law further states that, “Prisoners are never regarded as being in a position to grant legitimate consent.” In other words, prisoners will not be held accountable for their actions. Therefore, staff members are solely responsible for following the law if they want to remain employed and not be charged as a criminal.
Some employees have found themselves in situations where they have displaced feelings directed towards an inmate or offender. It is important for staff members to recognize those feelings while working in the system. Displacement feelings are defined as redirection of strong feelings about one person to someone else. Displacement occurs when there is a feeling of fear or an inability to direct the feelings toward the object or person who aroused the feelings. Usually, displacement involves negative feelings, but it can also occur with positive feelings. While these feelings may seem positive to the individual, they ultimately render negative effects to the security of the institution and the individual.
For the purposes of this article, I have provided a scenario demonstrating what I mean:
The Warden of a prison is notorious for fraternizing with his secretaries. The job does not allow the fraternization of any kind and is not tolerated. It is a violation of the sexual and unlawful harassment policy. It must be reported, whether it is consensual or used as a measure of intimidation or coercion. This situation is similar to a boss having inappropriate relations with their secretary, the only difference is that one is in an office setting and the other is in a correctional institution. The time spent together can be a a major factor and be the cause of lines crossing. They both have constant contact for long periods at a time. The boss and secretary have contact for an average of 30-35 hrs in a 40 hr work week, while a correctional officer/staff and inmate/offender may have 40-48 hrs in a 6/3.) In a rotation, some institution may use the six days on and three days off rotation. The employees work six days and is off for three days on a post. Post may be dorm officer, detail officer or control room officer. Depending on the institution or facility, the employee may work a post for thirty, sixty or ninety days. The boss and secretary relationship can result in sexual harassment, which officials/staff fraternizing with inmates is essentially considered, according to the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
In my experience, I have also found that many displacement feelings that some staff members have may come from family members, close friends, and loved ones that are incarcerated. The staff member may feel that the inmate that he or she is supervising reminds him or her of a loved one that he or she grew up with or is related to, that has been incarcerated or is still incarcerated.
It is important for all administrators to follow the guidelines provided in the handbook. If they notice a situation brewing, it is their responsibility to stop it before it gets out of hand. Having weekly staff meetings will help supervisors to monitor and provide guidance. Another helpful tool is the Employee Assistance Program, designed to assist employees with personal and employment related issues and to provide training to staff. The employees can use this program, especially if the employee feels that the chain of command is not trustworthy.
The warden or high-level administrator has the authority to mandate counseling, instead of terminating, any employee that voluntarily confesses to having personal relations with an inmate or offender.
I witnessed two isolated instances where an employee engaged in personal relations with an inmate. One of the individuals was terminated because she not only had a personal relationship with an inmate, but she also brought drugs into the institution. The other individual was transferred to another division and no longer had supervisory duties over the inmates. The reason that individual’s job was spared was that the authorities did not find concrete evidence and the individual reported the alleged incident.
One critical point that all employees need to be made aware of is that their actions may jeopardize their lives as well as their coworkers’ lives. If employees obey the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, those feelings will not be expressed in the workplace. Care and Custody of inmates is the profession in which they are choosing to make a living to support their families as well as themselves. As administrators and colleagues, it is our responsibility to look after each other. As a team, we can make the weakest links stronger.
Contrenia C. Fann is the author of "Commonsense: Do Not Play Games With An Inmate" and the soon to be released "Common Sense: Misconduct Between Staff and Supervisors; ‘Do Not Get Your Honey Where You Get Your Money’”. She is a sought after expert and frequent panelist on correctional issues and has appeared at nationwide conferences to include: the National Association of Hispanics in Criminal Justice, National Association of Black in Criminal Justice, International Association of Correctional Training Personnel, Women in Corrections Conference, and the Southern States Corrections Association Conference.
Other articles by C. C. Fann
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