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 supervisor.

"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.

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 misconduct.

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 said.

"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 crossed boundaries."

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 misconduct training.

"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 control."

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 employment here."

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 profession.

"[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) 862-8166, www.nashville-sheriff.net

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