Florida ''on guard'' for inmate-officer sex

5:37 PM, Mar 22, 2009   |    comments
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BY THE NUMBERS

FLORIDA TODAY requested incident reports from the Brevard Correctional Institution for 2003 through 2008. The 65 reports included investigations of inmate fighting, contraband and excessive force by corrections officers. Reports on ongoing investigations were not included. An examination revealed:

12 cases of female staffers accused in inappropriate relationships with inmates

9 staff members who resigned or were fired in those incidents

5 cases that were proven to include sexual intercourse or sexual contact

 

Sharpes, Florida -- In the past five years, officials have investigated at least 12 allegations of sex or improper relationships between male inmates and female officers or staff members at the Brevard Correctional Institution, according to state records.

Eight officers and one counselor resigned or were fired in those incidents. Five cases were proven to have involved sexual relationships.

Florida Assistant Secretary for Institutions George Sapp, based in Tallahassee, said the number of incidents at BCI is not considered high: The state prison houses about 1,000 male inmates between the ages of 19 and 24 and has about 300 male and female staff members.

"We do extensive training with officers when they are first in basic recruit training. That's where they get a lot of training on inmate manipulation and how to interact with inmates," Sapp said during a conference call with our news partners FLORIDA TODAY and BCI Warden Michelle Bateman. "Our leadership staff are always on guard about that kind of thing. We always talk with our staff about having appropriate relationships with inmates, and our main mission is public safety."

Bateman, who took over the prison five months ago, said efforts are ongoing to keep officers from engaging in personal relationships with inmates.

"We talk about it at every department head meeting as far as appropriate conduct, sexual harassment and just monitoring your staff," she said.

Rod James, a former warden at BCI, could not be reached for comment.

The 65 records provided to FLORIDA TODAY cover 2003 to 2007 because the Department of Corrections releases documents only on closed investigations.

There are 14 open investigations for 2008. The records cover all "incidents" at the prison.

Sapp said staff members weren't fired, for example, in cases of prohibited relationships that involved officers breaking policy by mailing letters for inmates or by doing other favors.

But he said there were no second chances for sexual interaction.

"The department has a real strong policy, and we take real strong action against anybody we determine to be engaged in this type of behavior with an inmate," Sapp said.

"We also take real strong action against inmates who take into this type of behavior with other inmates as well."

Jamie Fellner, senior counsel for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said classifying the number of incidents as "not high" could be considered "cavalier."

She added, "It's a breach of a deep-seeded rule not to have sex with inmates."

Considered abuse

According to a Department of Justice report in 2007, almost 4.5 percent of all state and federal inmates were sexually victimized at least one time by another inmate or staff member. Almost 3 percent of the inmates said they were victimized by a staff member.

A Justice Department report in 2005, aimed at deterring sexual abuse of federal inmates by staff members, said, "Consent is never a legal defense for corrections staff who engage in sexual acts with inmates. According to federal law, all sexual relations between staff and inmates are considered abuse."

Florida law considers sex between a corrections officer and an inmate to be sexual battery, a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Officials said none of the women disciplined in the Brevard cases were charged with a crime because none were caught in the act and because the inmates were not cooperative. One female officer was found with her pants down, but sexual activity had not begun.

The 2005 report said inmates and officers are never on equal ground and that inmates do not have the ability to consent to a sexual relationship.

The report also said, "Inmates may try to use sex to compromise staff and obtain contraband or unauthorized privileges, which can compromise the safety and security of a prison."

But Indialantic psychologist Andrea Deratany said it could simply be about power for the corrections officer.

"Any authority figure has inherent power, and the people who they have power over may feel they have no choice but to go along," she said. "Some guards may abuse their authority to feel powerful, especially those who felt powerless in their life before becoming a prison guard."

While some of the improper conduct at BCI was uncovered because of incriminating correspondence -- which was found in cells -- between inmates and their female keepers or photos kept by inmates, other people were caught in compromising positions.

A sampling of reports revealed the following:

  • In 2003, a sergeant at the prison was conducting an area check when he saw two blankets over the door of a cell. He entered the room and, according to the incident report, saw a female corrections officer "bent over by the bunk with her pants down below her knees." The inmate was standing next to her, also with his pants off. The female officer resigned.
  • In 2004, an inmate complained that a female officer had been "stalking him and propositioning him for sexual favors." The inmate agreed to wear a recording device, and the officer was heard professing her love, kissing him and giving him Xanax pills, according to the report. When confronted, she resigned.
  • In 2005, an inmate told prison staff members that he had been having sex with a female officer late at night in the laundry room. The officer, who was on probation, was dismissed for negligence, but the sexual charges could not be substantiated.
  • A corrections officer resigned in 2006 before investigators could verify charges that she and an inmate were involved in a relationship "that included kissing and fondling each other," according to the report.
  • Last April, a psychological specialist resigned before an investigation into her relationship with an inmate was concluded. According to the report, she admitted to keeping their friendship secret as she counseled him at the prison.

John A. Torres, Florida Today

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