Michelle Gaseau and Keith L. Martin, Secrets Behind Bars: Sexual
Misconduct in Jails, Corrections.com, April 21, 2003.
When an off-duty corrections officer rolls into the jail at 9 p.m. and
asks for a female inmate to be brought to a private programming area,
it should raise several red flags. Why is the officer in the jail
during his time off? And, most important of all, why does he want to
see a female inmate in the evening in a private area?
Corrections officers at the Arlington County, Va., Detention Facility
did find this request strange, and told their supervisors who caught
the off-duty officer and the inmate having sexual contact.
Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur has spent a lot of time and
energy ensuring that both corrections officers and inmates understand
that sexual contact is not only inappropriate, but it is also illegal,
warrants termination or criminal charges and needs to be reported.
"We have done training for sheriff's associations and [other agencies]
and in talking to people, I was amazed at the lack of interest in
wanting to engage in some of these discussions. The attitude was bury
your head in the sand. My response is, if you think it doesn't happen,
then you are not living in reality," said Arthur.
Arthur knows first hand. She was an administrator at the department
several years ago when the detention facility experienced a spate of
sexual misconduct allegations that resulted in the termination of five
employees, the resignation of one and the discipline of two others.
The department's policy was to terminate anyone who was found, after
an investigation, to act in any inappropriate way with inmates - be it
sexual contact or the conveyance of contraband.
"The attitude was always, once you cross the line, that was it. In any
and every instance, if we [can] sustain that there was inappropriate
fraternization such as love letters, contraband, accepting collect
phone calls at home from an inmate or physical contact, there is no
option except termination," said Arthur.
Yet the department felt it had to do more and raised the level of its
training, even inviting its critics to make suggestions about how to
prevent sexual misconduct.
Lara Stemple, Executive Director for the inmate advocacy organization
Stop Prisoner Rape, said Arlington's was the right response in order
to prevent these illegal acts in the future.
"There are a lot of problems [in these situations]. One of the
problems is the blurring between things people portray as consensual.
We don't think they are, because of the extreme power imbalance
between officers and inmates," said Stemple. "There are important
prevention measures that can take place. We do believe there should be
training for officers themselves and for the inmates about what to do
if they are abused in anyway."
Taking a Closer Look at Prevention and Procedure
Stemple said some jails are taking serious steps to further educate
officers and inmates and address a code of silence that can sometimes
cover up the bad acts of a few officers.
"One problem we see for those who report [misconduct] is the problem
of retaliation. In the same way we heard about it in police
departments with the code of silence, we hear a lot of the same
reports about corrections officers. Officers will try to protect one
another rather than follow proper procedure," said Stemple.
Stemple said one example of retaliation was with a recent Ohio case
where a female inmate, who reported being sexually assaulted and raped
at a pre-release center, was transferred to another facility for her
own protection. After the transfer, officers at the new facility began
harassing her, Stemple said, because of the allegations she made.
"They threatened her with death. There's a huge problem with officers
intimidating and retaliating," she said.
To prevent this, Stemple said that agencies should provide ways for
inmates to report misconduct to objective parties rather than to
fellow officers or even the offending officer himself - if he is a
"What happens instead is, often the inmate who made the report is put
into segregation and often a loss of privileges accompanies that. It
effectively punishes the inmate who has [allegedly] been victimized,"
Stemple said the leadership of an agency or jail can often correct
some of these problems by showing that they take the issue seriously
and by making cultural changes.
"There are certainly officers who are appalled, but we feel like the
messages come from the top when there isn't serious attention given to
the problems. If there is a situation where an inmate has been
assaulted and the employee is quietly shown the door, whereas the
woman is placed in segregation, then the administration is sending a
dangerous message," said Stemple. "A lot of times the institution
wants to keep things under wraps; they don't want a sex scandal.
Instead they should have a police report done."
This is why Arthur and previous administrators at the Arlington County
Sheriff's Office took the stand they did.
According to Arthur, shortly after the allegations surfaced about
sexual misconduct in the detention center, the American Civil
Liberties Union's National Prison Project requested to interview
female offenders at the facility. The department decided to grant the
request to show that the department had nothing to hide.
"There are plenty of people who would have said, 'Don't come in.' but
our attitude was to be cooperative. We decided to be pro-active and
let them come in. It was not our feeling that it was a thing that was
constantly going on. We feel we run a very professional organization.
These things happen by a few people, not everybody," said Arthur.
Those interviews eventually led to talk of a lawsuit, but the
sheriff's department was able - through good faith efforts to improve
training and negotiations with the inmates' legal representatives - to
avoid a court case.
"They were very impressed with the programs and things we were doing
and our willingness of letting them review our policies and
procedures," said Arthur.
At the time, Arlington County had already started working with the
National Institute of Corrections to evaluate the system's training
and improve the department's polices and procedures related to
reporting, investigating and prosecuting those involved in sexual
Sheriff's office officials took a look at regulations from agencies as
far away as Arizona and Louisiana to get ideas for items they might
want to change in their own policy.
One important area of the training for staff, Arthur said, was
spending time demystifying the role of the investigator in these
situations. Staff felt that an initiation of an investigation meant
the department believed the inmate, but that wasn't the case, Arthur
"We do the investigation for the benefit of staff. We have a
responsibility to investigate, but it is also for their benefit. We
also told the inmates if you bring false allegations against staff, we
will bring legal action against you. We put a lot of responsibility on
the inmates," Arthur said.
The department also developed an inmate brochure that outlines the
expectations of staff so that inmates are aware of what staff can and
cannot do. Arthur said this information especially benefits female
offenders, many of whom come from backgrounds where they have been
dominated or manipulated by male figures in their lives.
"In jail you have a lot of control over them. There is no consensual
sexual activity," said Arthur, referring to the need to consider the
vulnerabilities of female offenders.
In addition, with the help of NIC consultants, the department beefed
up its training related to sexual misconduct and professionalism,
adding specifics about what types of activities were prohibited.
Arthur and others say that the training of staff in these matters,
combined with strong leadership can make a major difference in terms
of staff behavior.
Training an Important Factor in Prevention
Andie Moss, a criminal justice consultant who for many years worked
for NIC helping corrections agencies grapple with issues of sexual
misconduct - including Arlington County - said that training has to be
done correctly to have the most impact on staff.
"For starters there are a couple of values that are important. It
cannot be punitive and the training and the trainer [both] have to
have strong credibility with the participants," said Moss.
Moss, who has worked with jails and prisons on this issue, said that
agencies should first understand what their state laws say about
sexual contact between staff and inmates. All but four states have
made this conduct illegal and many have made it a felony.
Moss said jails can also now rely on position statements from the
National Sheriffs' Association and forthcoming position statements on
the issue from the American Jail Association to drive home to staff
and supervisors that this is a major management issue that the entire
field is dealing with.
"Setting the tone for training is really important and you do that
with the credibility of your trainer. Give them some concrete cases -
from your own state or use national cases -- so people don't feel like
it is a witch hunt. You need to set that tone. It's not about them,
but about what is going on in the field," Moss said.
Agencies should also have a clear policy that specifically addresses
appropriate behavior as well as activity that is inappropriate,
including case examples.
"It shouldn't be focused only on sexual interaction but also
appropriate professional boundaries, such as recognizing when you have
an emotional response to an inmate or are becoming emotionally
involved in someone's situation," Moss said.
Arlington County's six-hour, new-hire training and its annual
refresher training for staff on sexual misconduct hits upon legal
issues as well as signs to watch out for when a staff member is
getting too close.
"There are signs for looking out for their co-workers. When an
employee is having personal problems, for example, they might identify
with inmates rather than their peers. If you have a co-worker with
personal issues, look out for them. Maybe a supervisor can rotate them
out of where they are and put them in a position where they are around
staff more," said Arthur.
In addition to staff dynamics, Moss said that training needs to cover
offender dynamics as well.
"The content in that discussion needs to talk about the dynamics
offenders bring and then what staff bring into the facility. A skilled
trainer starts with those issues so that you are providing background
before you get to the emotional part," Moss said. "It's also important
not to blame staff or the inmate, but to present it as dilemmas of
Moss added that agencies can find assistance and guidance about
training specifics through NIC, which has helped many agencies with
these kinds of culture and training changes.
Officials in the Davidson County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office looked to
the NIC for help when they wanted to enhance the department's sexual
"If [improper behavior] is tolerated, you will see more workplace
harassment and if you find that, you will find more staff misconduct
with inmates," says Constance Taite, Legal Coordinator for the
Davidson County Sheriff's Office. It has to do with the establishment
of a culture [of] not being accepted and getting through the 'old time
code,' so that [staff] are trained to report it before it gets out of
Davidson County Takes a Proactive Approach
Before correctional officer trainees in Davidson County can put on
their uniforms and report for their first shift, they get an
important, hour-long message from Sheriff Daron Hall. The premise is
simple: the sheriff's office has a zero tolerance policy when it comes
to staff and inmate relationships.
"The most painful thing for me is to see employees give away their
career by having and often starting relationships [with inmates],"
said Hall, who spent nine years as Chief Deputy, overseeing all of the
county's detention facilities. "I [tell our] officers the first day,
[we will] not judge you for having a relationship, but we will ask you
to resign because it is a security issue. The [relationship] develops
and they can no longer perform their job and can't maintain their
New training is on the horizon for both new and existing officers as
the county prepares to make a big shift in its management operations.
For the past eight years, the county has only held male inmates in its
facilities and contracted out beds in other jurisdictions for female
offenders after booking.
In 18 months, however, that will change as plans for a new, 526-bed,
stand-alone female unit to open come to fruition. To prepare for this
returning population, the sheriff's office has decided to train staff
about managing female inmates on a daily basis, including avoiding
staff sexual misconduct.
"I think a lot of people [get] alarmed with the fact that we are
bringing women back and we haven't [managed them] for years, so you
don't want your staff to walk in without training and expertise to
know right versus wrong with female [inmates]," said Hall.
To learn more about preventing staff sexual misconduct, Taite and two
other employees attended an NIC training program. They plan to utilize
their knowledge from this three-day session to train the agency's
lieutenants, who will then train staff. Meanwhile, said Taite, the
sheriff's office will re-examine and re-develop policies so they are
in place when female inmates return to the county facility.
"[The sheriff's office] thinks it's important to be ready because a
lot of our officers have never worked with a female population," she
said. "It is going to be a big impact on our culture because [women]
have different issues and needs. This is not just the same as
[managing] males - it's a whole different picture."
Taite said it is important to note that staff sexual misconduct is not
a "women's issue," but instead a "security issue" and by taking a
proactive approach, the agency hopes to do all it can to prevent
incidents from happening in the future.
"We hope to look at it in terms of what can we do [now] to never
arrive at the point of [violating] our zero tolerance policy," she
said. "We want to prevent it from happening in the first place. We are
[exploring] training and policy development, staff rotation, the
physical layout of the facility [and other strategies] so we never
arrive to the point where an inmate is victimized or a [sexual act is
committed] because that is a threat to everyone in the facility. It
takes away safety and order."
Prevention Needs Initiative From the Top
As important as training is, reinforcing those lessons is equally if
not more important. Once staff leave the classroom, their education in
preventing sexual misconduct must continue and it is largely on
management's shoulders to complete this task.
"You can select [employees] with great care and train them, but you
need someone to supervise and even mentor [staff]," said Timothy Ryan,
Corrections Chief for the Orange County, Fla., Corrections Department.
"When you are stuck with [the same group of people] for eight hours a
day, you cannot help but get connected, but [staff have to learn to
be] professional and cautious."
While corrections agencies understand the importance of the physical
presence of a supervisor, said Ryan, they must additionally reinforce
their prevention messages in any and all ways.
"Administrators or a department's leadership must commit to [saying]
that any misconduct will result in termination," said Ryan, whose
department had to fire an officer last year after an incident of
sexual misconduct. "It cannot occur and [the department] will take
serious action, so that message needs to go out."
When Ryan came to Orange County a little over a year ago, following a
lengthy career in the Santa Clara County, Calif., Department of
Correction, he made sure all of his staff understood the department's
position on any misconduct.
"I came here and immediately put out a video for staff to watch that
showed them 'If you do this, you are subject to termination," said
Ryan. "It showed them our standards of behavior here and that is
something administrators must carry at all times and make their
expectations [of staff] clear. We have the expectation [from others]
of security and safety, so any inappropriate [act] is sometimes
criminal and a serious violation [of those expectations]."
With over 30 years of experience in the field of corrections, Ryan
said he has seen lots of things and continues to learn everyday. One
of the things his experiences have taught him is that "sexual
misconduct" can involve anyone from a staff member and an inmate, to
staff and staff or even citizen volunteers and inmates. Furthermore,
the actual acts themselves can range from an officer giving an exiting
inmate his pager number to sexual intercourse in the jail between
officer and inmates.
It is the latter, however, that not only has a detrimental impact on
both parties, but also can have negative consequences for the entire
"[In my experience] I would have maybe one to two events [of
staff/inmate sexual activity versus] more staff/staff harassment
[incidents], but the headlines will always be about staff and
inmates," said Ryan, who is also outgoing President of the American
Jail Association. "It has professional consequences in that [jail
officers] get painted with the same brush. If one individual does it,
does that mean all 1,010 officers in my department should be under
suspicion? It is not as prevalent as the community perceives it to be,
but we are concerned because it diminishes our profession, so we've
constantly looked at ways to educate folks and avoid incidents."
It is this concern that is leading more jails to look at staff sexual
misconduct as something that could happen to their agency and acting
rather than reacting.
"I think the potential for [sexual misconduct] is very, very
large...if we don't set up guidelines and train staff," said Hall. "If
we don't recognize the problem, it can grow as large as we allow it.
To hide our face in the sand is not wise."
Sheriff Daron Hall, Davidson County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office, (615)
Timothy Ryan, Corrections Chief, Orange County, Fla., Corrections
Department, (407) 836-3564
Constance Taite, Legal Coordinator, Davidson County, Tenn., Sheriff's
Office, (615) 862-8166, www.nashville-sheriff.net
Andie Moss, The Moss Group, (202) 548-4850
Arlington County Sheriff's Office, 703-228-4460
Lara Stemple, Stop prisoner Rape, www.spr.org