Lisa Schuetz, When staffers have sex with the prisoners, Wisconsin State Journal, April 24, 2006.
A guard in the Stanley Correctional Institution walked in on a man and woman kissing behind a locked door last June. The man was an inmate - the woman a prison employee in the food service department.
Christine Brown, 46, was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault in Chippewa County Circuit Court. The inmate acknowledged that he had had sex with her more than once.
Earlier this month, Brown pleaded no contest to a sexual assault felony and four misdemeanors and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, with the possibility of a much longer term if she misbehaves during her 18-month probation.
The assistant district attorney in the case, Wade Newell, said he agreed to the relatively lenient sentence because "the inmate said it was consensual."
Society isn't as outraged when female staff members have sex with male inmates, Newell said, adding: "Males don't see themselves as victims of sexual assault the same way that a female would."
But many experts and a Wisconsin law insist that consent is impossible for anyone - woman or man - who is being held under lock and key. Any prison employee who has sex with an inmate is considered guilty of sexual assault, under the 2003 law.
"Victims of prison rape suffer severe physical and psychological effects that hinder their ability to integrate into their communities and maintain stable employment upon release from prison," National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Chairman Reggie Walton has said.
Walton, a federal district judge, goes on to say that in addition violating constitutional rights of inmates and exacerbating health and mental health problems, race relations and rehabilitation, prison sexual assaults compromise security.
Responding less vigorously to cases of female prison employees having sexual contact with male prisoners, experts said, is an outdated practice.
Because a high percentage of inmates of both sexes have histories of sexual, physical and drug abuse, guards who have sex with them are re-victimizing them, even when the inmate appears to be "consenting," some experts said.
Female inmates are much more likely to be sexually abused by guards than are male inmates, but because there are so many men imprisoned, the men actually are victims of more assaults - and women are almost always the perpetrators in those cases.
In Dane County this month, two female guards were charged with having sexual contact with male inmates at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Fitchburg. The warden is facing scrutiny because she and her staff failed to trigger a police investigation until months after the allegations became known.
In step with growing momentum nationwide to stop sex in prisons, Wisconsin corrections officials said they are providing better training on the topic.
"Because of the new law and because of our policy on staff sexual misconduct, all staff that work in the correctional institutions know that staff (sexual contact) with an inmate is not only against policy, but also against the law," said Jayne Dunnum, head of training for state Corrections Department.
Nonetheless, some still haven't gotten the message.
Since January 2003, when the state started tracking guard-inmate sexual contact, 163 allegations of improper contact have been made. Some were determined to be violations of the department's rules on fraternization between staff and inmates without proof of sexual contact. Department of Corrections spokesman John Dipko said 31 were found to be credible allegations of improper sexual contact.
In all, the allegations led to 18 prison workers being fired and 19 resigning.
Not a fair fight
Maureen Buell, program specialist with the National Institute of Corrections, said nearly everyone in the industry agrees that inmates can't really consent to sex.
"There's a great saying out there and I don't know who said it," she said. "If you hold the keys, it's not a fair fight."
Kelly Anderson, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in Madison said she looks at it the same way. "People who literally have life and death power over you . . . need to be held to a higher level of standards," she said.
Lovisa Stannow, co- executive director of the advocacy group Stop Prisoner Rape, said the imbalance of power plays a role in why victims, including men, may not want to report assaults.
"They are afraid they will get hurt, that they will have complaints written up about them or they will be transferred to another prison," she said. "There are all kinds of things corrections officials can do to an inmate."
It's power, not gender
It's important to examine the reasons an inmate "consents" to sex, said Brenda Smith, a former warden, a lawyer and lead professor at the American University Washington College of Law's prison rape research program.
"There is a tendency to see men, even if they're inmates, as more powerful than women and to see men as the seducers as opposed to seeing men being victimized by the relationship," said Smith, one of nine members of the Prisoner Rape Elimination Commission.
Both men and women prisoners use sex to get what they want - from protection to goods, she said.
"They've traded sex for whatever, because that's the currency that they have, that's the hand they're dealt," Smith said. "It's still the (prison) officers' responsibility. They are the one in power and they are the one who needs to manage the situation."
Another reason inmates are susceptible to involvement in sexual misconduct is that they tend to have histories that include physical, sexual and substance abuse, said Susan McCampbell of Florida, a consultant and author on prisoner sex issues.
Anderson said sexual abuse can change a person's view of their power and self-worth. "The same thing happens with young girls who are abused, and then they become prostitutes," she said.
McCampbell said gender plays a part in how abuse is reported. "Women will tell you about their abuse, but men won't," she said. "Even though the numbers suggest that men are abused at a much lower rate, anyone who works in that field will tell you that it's probably grossly underreported."
Another gender difference is that female staff are often treated less harshly than male staff who do the same crime, she said.
Prison workers are trained to establish clear boundaries between inmates and themselves, said Dee Halley with the National Institute of Corrections.
"Be cautious about anything that they are saying around inmates," she advised. "Don't share personal information. Don't talk about what you do on the weekends, don't talk about your personal life. Certainly any kind of talk about romance is inappropriate."
The institute recommends that training includes a profile of the average inmate - who they are and their potential abuse histories.
It's also highly recommended to talk about red flags to recognize when inmates may be manipulating staff using sex.
Finally, Halley said, wardens must create an atmosphere in which staff and inmates feel safe reporting suspected abuse.
All of that and more is covered in training for Wisconsin's 10,000 prison workers, half of whom handle security, officials say. New employees get 13 hours of training on fraternization and sexual misconduct, said Dunnum, head of training for the state Department of Corrections.
Prison workers were told of the 2003 law criminalizing staff sex with inmates when it was enacted and have subsequently had at least three hours of training on it, she said. "We tell them that you have to check your character. What kind of person do you want to be?" Dunnum said.
Wisconsin Corrections Secretary Matt Frank issued an executive order in 2004 outlining the law and department rules and asked all staff to sign it.
The two female guards at Oakhill refused, department spokesman John Dipko said. Their supervisors signed off to indicate that the guards - Heather Bartosch, 28, of Fitchburg, and Christine Roberge, 39, of Edgerton - had been given the information.
McCampbell, a contractor for the National Institute of Corrections, said she has been involved in 75 training programs for corrections systems from Maine to California since 1999. She has also spoken to or written papers for a variety of law enforcement organizations such as the National Sheriff's Association and American Probation and Parole Association.
"The word is getting out," she said. "But it's a big world"