Inappropriate Sexual Relationships in Prison

By · Monday, October 20th, 2008

A criminal justice student who had read my book Inside:Life Behind Bars in America, asked me how often sexual contact occurred between officers and prisoners. She wanted to know how such behavior could escape notice from other authorities inside prisons.

An Internet search on the subject would yield disturbing results. Around the same time that publishers were bringing Inside to market, a prison scandal at the federal prison in Tallahassee described a sex ring that officers were running. The male guards induced the female prisoners into sexual acts by offering them contraband like perfume, alcohol, and other items that were off limits for prisoners. When the female prisoners wanted to opt out of the sexual relationships, the guards threatened them with retaliation.

One of the female prisoners began cooperating with authorities. Agents from the FBI stormed the prison in an effort to arrest the federal corrections officers. A shoot out ensued. One of the guards and at least one federal officer was killed. Several of the other participating guards were taken into custody. The incident made front-page news in The New York Times.

During the more than 21 years that I have served, I have been confined in several institutions where female guards were arrested and prosecuted for having sexual relationships with male prisoners. Such behavior is not an every-day occurrence, though staff members discover such acts every few months. When prisoners are separated from society for years or decades at a time, they form their own societies inside prison boundaries. The staff members who are charged with the responsibility of overseeing them sometimes interact with the prisoners in ways that officials deem inappropriate. Those relationships can lead to corruption. Yet they seem to be a natural part of the prison experience, as I’ve seen and written about many such interactions such as my blog post Sexual Encounters with Prison Staff. That blog post focuses more on consensual and love based sexual relations between inmates and prison staff.

Those who want to learn more about the prison experience and steps they may take to avoid problems while serving time may find some value in the articles included in the topical report series titled Understanding Prison.

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