Michael Rochon, Guard Behavior is Old Concern, Indystar.com, August 4, 2002.

The recent arrests of three Indiana prison guards accused of forcing female inmates to have sex with them was a rare incident, prison officials said.

But according to records obtained by The Star, officials took disciplinary action 92 times against Indiana prison guards in 2000 and 2001 for inappropriate contact with inmates. That's a broad category of improper behavior that can range from granting favors to having sex.

At least five of those cases involved juvenile offenders.

"This is a problem from way back. And it's also a problem that (prison officials) know is happening on a regular basis," said local inmate advocate Celia Sweet.

State prison officials said they take such cases seriously.

"It is stressed to all correctional officers during training that having a sexual relationship with an inmate -- whether male or female -- is a felony," said department spokeswoman Pam Pattison. "And the Department of Correction will prosecute in such cases."

But Pattison said the department keeps no record of how many discipline cases result in prosecution. Criminal charges would be filed in the county where the crime is believed to have occurred, and her agency does not compile overall figures.

The head of the department, Commissioner Evelyn Ridley-Turner, failed to return repeated calls for comment on the issue. Her agency oversees 35 prisons.

Disciplinary action for improper relations was taken most frequently at Rockville Correctional Facility, a western Indiana prison that houses about 700 female inmates. Twenty-four actions in 2000 and 2001 involved improper relations, according to the Department of Correction.

The Westville Correctional Facility, home to 2,700 male offenders, was second with 22 cases. Eight were for improper relationships, and one was for sexual contact, state documents show.

Concerns about coercion were raised after allegations surfaced in late May that guards at the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis intimidated prisoners into having sex with them.

Three male correctional officers, all charged July 23 with felony sexual misconduct, forced female inmates to a basement-level chapel, where at least two women were forced into sexual contacts against their will, the Marion County prosecutor's office contends.

One of the officers used a latex glove as a condom on an inmate, according to court documents, and also demanded she perform oral sex.

A Star request to interview one of the women involved was denied by department officials, saying the inmate's comments could potentially jeopardize the pending case against the officers.

Although state prison officials note that not all of the accusations of improper contact have alleged sexual coercion, they do say such relations between inmates and the state's 4,500 guards are a genuine concern.

Walter Martin, superintendent at the 32-year-old Rockville women's prison, said four of the cases there involved guards engaging in "potentially romantic relationships" with inmates. In one case, a female guard allowed an offender to move in with her after being released from prison. That incident led to the officer's resignation.

The majority of the cases, Martin said, were attributed to preconceived notions about prison life.

"A lot of (guards) think prison is like those old movies," said Martin, referring to the once-popular notion that guards are allowed to demand sex from inmates in return for favors.

"But these are just people who have gotten into some trouble," he said. "These are your mother's friends. These are the normal people that you see walking down the street."

Although no group tracks the number of such allegations nationally, inmates advocates say, the practice of prison officials coercing inmates into having sex has existed for decades.

"This is a real problem -- not only in Indiana -- but across the nation," said Lara Stemple, executive director of the nonprofit Stop Prison Rapes organization in California. "We do hear these stories, and unfortunately, we hear them far too many times."

Officials from Human Rights Watch said the problem lies in prison management not regularly investigating such allegations. They think more inmates would come forward if their complaints weren't automatically categorized as baseless.

"All too often, prison departments feel the inmate has trapped this 'poor, innocent guard,' " said group Executive Director Jamie Fellner, whose independent, non-governmental organization fights against global injustices.

Fellner said allowing guards into the showers and sleeping quarters of opposite-sex prisoners -- practices permitted in many states, including Indiana -- also contributes to problems.

"We're not encouraging discrimination against men," she said, "but we do believe there are some situations where the two sexes should at least be separated."

But when it comes to prisoners, Pattison said, separating inmates from security personnel will never be an option -- regardless of gender.

"When talking about a prison setting," she said, "you will not be allowed complete privacy."