JDI IN THE NEWS - 2004

Theresa Freed, Guarded Sex Secrets, KAKE TV 10 (Wichita, KS), November 23, 2004.

Behind the barbed wire fences of Kansas prisons, the inmates aren't the only felons. More correctional officers and staff are getting busted for having inappropriate relations with inmates, or according to inside sources, even breaking the law by having sex with them.

The KBI is often called in to investigate. Just this month, criminal charges were filed against a Wichita Municipal Court officer for allegedly masturbating in front of an inmate and then propositioning him.

"He asked if he could have anal sex," said Shawn Spencer, an alleged victim. "He started to ask me lewd things, like what did I like or was this interesting to me."

These incidents are growing. Last year in Kansas, five people were fired for having inappropriate relations, this year that number is already at 16.

"The problem of custodial misconduct is [a] relatively widespread one and we find it to be particular alarming," said Lara Stemple, Stop Prisoner Rape director.

The law forbids any Kansas prison workers from having sexual relations with inmates. Employees aren't even allowed to have friendly relationships, because they can escalate. A prison guard resigned after getting too close to an inmate. She says it started with small talk, but developed into an inappropriate friendship.

"Once you befriend an inmate, you cannot objectively do your job," said "Rebecca," a former detention officer.

Although "Rebecca" says her relationship never turned sexual, she says she's seen plenty of officers and contract employees like kitchen staff allow things to go too far.

One source says a prison nurse was recently caught having sex with an inmate. She was fired and the two eventually married.

In May, a Garden City parole officer was convicted of having sex with a parolee and sentenced to a year's probation.

Officials say the reported incidents most likely represent just a small fraction of what's actually happening.

"There is a real risk for under-reporting, because these people are under the control of individuals and afraid of the consequences," says KBI spokesperson Kyle Smith. "It's handled internally and very often the perpetrator, the staff member, is transferred to another position or quietly shown the door."

An inmate's desperation to connect or obtain favorable treatment makes prison conditions ripe for abuse.

Once a prison employee starts a relationship with an inmate, the inmate can have a dangerous hold on the employee. The worker may feel trapped and continue to meet the inmate's demands. An inside source says one Kansas prison worker even went so far as to bring a weapon to an inmate. The source says that guard was fired.

Despite the alarming statistics, Kansas is actually one of the states leading the way to tighten restrictions on staff-inmate relations.

In 1993, the Kansas Department of Corrections helped pass a law that outlines unlawful sexual relations. Sex with an inmate is illegal, the lowest level felony.

Officers are taught that if you cross the line, your career in law enforcement is over, but the problems persist.