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SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IN PRISONS:
LAW, REMEDIES, AND INCIDENCE
May 2000

Special Issues in Corrections

LIS, Inc.

U.S. Department of Justice
National Institute of Corrections
Information Center
Longmont, Colorado

National Institute of Corrections

Morris L. Thigpen
Director
Susan M. Hunter
Chief, Prisons Division
Andie Moss
Correctional Program Specialist

National Institute of Corrections
Prisons Division
320 First Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20534
(800) 995-6423
(202) 307-3106

NIC Information Center
1860 Industrial Circle
Longmont, Colorado 80501
(800) 977-1461
(303) 682-0213
http://www.nicic.org

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IN PRISONS:
LAW, REMEDIES, AND INCIDENCE
Special Issues in Corrections

Introduction
To follow up on its November 1996 study of staff
sexual misconduct in prisons, the National Institute of
Corrections (NIC) undertook a project in 1999
focusing on changes since 1996 in related state laws
and agency policies and practices. In these studies,
sexual misconduct is defined as sexual behavior, contact, or relationships between correctional staff and
inmates/offenders.
Greater awareness of the importance and seriousness
of sexual misconduct has been evident in the late
1990s, particularly as it involves women inmates.
Many jurisdictions have developed comprehensive
strategies for preventing and responding appropriately
to sexual misconduct.

May 2000

n

Developing new ways to increase inmates’ awareness of the issue.

NIC Efforts Against Sexual Misconduct. In recent
years, the NIC Prisons Division has worked with
many departments of corrections (DOCs) in
addressing the issue of sexual misconduct between
staff and inmates. NIC has presented training to all
levels of correctional leadership to assist them in
developing deliberate management responses as they
shape policy in their agencies.
Further initiatives have included:
n

Providing on-site technical assistance to nine state
DOCs and the federal prison system;

n

Conducting a study with the National Women’s
Law Center on the status of state laws;

Elements of these strategies have included:
n

Passing new laws that define sexual misconduct
as unlawful and exclude consent by the inmate as
a legal defense;

Presenting a 36-hour seminar on policy and practice to more than 40 teams of DOC staff;

n

Training institutional trainers from several DOCs
to develop and implement training for line staff;

n

Assessing agencies’ operational and management
practices;

n

Developing a video for use in staff training;

n

Developing new agency policies specifically prohibiting staff sexual misconduct;

n

Presenting a number of workshops at correctionsrelated professional conferences;

n

Improving training programs to heighten staff
awareness of the issue and its consequences;

n

Funding a cooperative agreement to develop
investigative training in the area of staff sexual
misconduct; and

n

Revising agency procedures for investigating
charges of staff sexual misconduct; and

n

Conducting research in 1996 and 1999 on the
experiences of correctional agencies.

n

Special Issues in Corrections is prepared by staff of LIS, Inc., NIC Information Center contractor, in cooperation with the U.S. Department
of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, under contract no. J1C0-110. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views
or policies of the National Institute of Corrections. Send inquiries to Connie Clem, Senior Communications Specialist, NIC Information
Center, 1860 Industrial Circle, Suite A, Longmont, Colorado, 80501; (800) 877-1461.

Project Method. This study was intended primarily
to identify new laws and initiatives created since 1996
to address and prevent staff sexual misconduct with
inmates. It also collected data on recent incidence of
sexual misconduct, litigation brought against correctional agencies, and outcomes for staff involved as
well as exploring correctional managers’ views on the
causes and prevention of sexual misconduct.
A written survey instrument was mailed to 54 state,
territorial, and federal agencies responsible for administering adult prisons. Responses were received from
49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto
Rico, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Staff
in a variety of positions responded, such as DOC
directors and deputy directors, wardens, equal
employment and human resource officers, inspectors,
auditors, and researchers.

Provisions of specific statutes related to staff sexual
misconduct enacted since 1996 include the following:
n

Arkansas—Expanded the scope of a law prohibiting sexual contact with inmates to cover city
and county jails.

n

Illinois—Defined the offense of custodial sexual
misconduct, a Class 3 felony, which prohibits
sexual conduct by a DOC employee or contractor.

n

Maryland—Prohibited sexual acts with inmates
and defined such acts as a misdemeanor.

n

Massachusetts—Prohibited sexual relations
between DOC staff or contractors and inmates or
persons otherwise under direct custodial supervision and control; defines inmates as being
incapable of consent to such sexual relations.

n

Mississippi—Prohibited “sexual penetration of
incarcerated offenders by law enforcement officers or employees” and defined such acts as a
felony.

n

Nebraska—Defined the offense of sexual assault
of an inmate or parolee as “sexual contact or
sexual penetration” and specified that consent of
an inmate or parolee is not a defense.

n

New Hampshire—Prohibited sexual contact by a
person “in a position of authority” and cited victims in correctional institutions, juvenile detention
facilities, or under probation or parole; made the
offense a class B felony.

n

Pennsylvania—Made “institutional sexual
assault” a first-degree misdemeanor.

n

South Carolina—Inserted language into an
existing statute that defined as a felony “an
employee of a correctional facility having sexual
intercourse with an inmate of that facility.”

n

South Dakota—Specifically prohibited sexual
misconduct in prisons and defined it as a Class 6
felony.

Legislative Actions
At the close of 1999, all but eight states (Alabama,
Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Utah,
Vermont, and West Virginia) had enacted statutes that
prohibit staff sexual misconduct with inmates. New
statutes or supplemental legislation had been passed
by 15 states since NIC’s 1996 report (see Table 1,
page 3).
The statutes typically define sexual misconduct as
either a misdemeanor or felony offense, sometimes as
determined by the nature of the specific behavior
involved. Most often (in 35 states, the District of
Columbia, and the U.S. Code), it is a felony offense.
Where states passed amendments or supplements to
earlier legislation, the intent to expand the scope of
the law to include, for example, volunteer workers or
staff in community corrections settings or to specifically disallow consent of the inmate/offender as a
defense.

2

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

Table 1. Statutes Prohibiting Sexual Misconduct Involving Correctional Staff and Inmates
Legislation Passed
1996 or Earlier
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming
U.S. Bureau of Prisons
Guam
Puerto Rico

None

New or Supplemental
Legislation Passed Since 1996

Level of Offense

No response to this question
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4

4

4

4
4
4
4

Felony
Misdemeanor
Misdemeanor
Felony or misdemeanor
Felony (if coercive)
Felony or misdemeanor
Felony
Felony
Felony
Felony
Felony
Felony
Felony
Felony
Aggravated misdemeanor
Felony

None
4
4
4
4
4

Felony
Felony
Misdemeanor
(Not specified)
Misdemeanor

None
4

Felony
Felony

4

Felony
(Not available)
Felony
(Not available)
Felony
Felony or misdemeanor
Felony
Misdemeanor
Felony
Felony

4
None
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
None
4
4
4
4
4

Misdemeanor
Felony
Felony
Felony
Misdemeanor
Felony (if coercive)

4
4

Felony or misdemeanor
Felony or misdemeanor

4
4
4
None
None

None
4
4
4

No 1999 survey response

Felony
Felony (if coercive)
Felony or misdemeanor (criminal if coercive)

None
None

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

3

n

Tennessee—Defined sexual conduct or sexual
penetration with a prisoner or inmate as a Class A
misdemeanor.

n

Texas—Added “sexual contact” as an offense to
previously existing categories of “sexual intercourse” and “deviate sexual intercourse”; also
expanded the law to protect individuals in jails, in
juvenile corrections, and “under the supervision
of the department but not in custody of the department.”

n

n

Virginia—Made “carnal knowledge” of an
“inmate, parolee, probationer, or pre- or post-trial
offender” a Class 6 felony if committed by correctional staff; also defined “sexual abuse” of the
same group by staff as sexual battery, which is a
Class 1 misdemeanor.
Washington—Defined the crimes of “custodial
misconduct” (sexual intercourse) as a Class C
felony and “sexual contact” as a second degree
gross misdemeanor.

Relevant legislation has been proposed or considered
in several other states:
n

n

n

n

4

The Vermont DOC presented draft legislation to
the legislature in 1999 that would have criminalized sexual misconduct between staff and
inmates. The legislature did not act on the proposed bill, but the DOC was planning to present a
revised draft to the 2000 legislature.
The Kentucky DOC planned to submit legislation
on this topic to the General Assembly, in 2000.
The California DOC drafted a bill for submission
to the legislature that would increase the penalties
for staff sexual misconduct and expand the scope
of activities prohibited under the law.
The Tennessee DOC is considering additional legislative recommendations, which would
supplement the measure already passed in the
1996-99 reporting period.

n

A bill was proposed but has not yet been passed
in Alaska.

n

A bill being considered in Michigan would
increase the penalty for sexual misconduct.

While federal law has been in place since 1986, the
BOP has been working with the U.S. Department of
Justice to enhance the penalties. The BOP is seeking
an increase in the statutory penalty for sexual abuse of
inmates, and if this legislation is enacted, the agency
will work with the U.S. Sentencing Commission to
increase the guideline range resulting in significant
sentences of incarceration.

Litigation
Survey responses indicated that at least 22 DOCs in
1999 were responding to litigation based on charges
of sexual misconduct involving staff and inmates. In
some DOCs, there was more than one sexual misconduct suit. This can be compared roughly with NIC’s
1996 findings, when 24 responding DOCs indicated
they had been involved in litigation in the previous 5
years as a result of sexual misconduct allegations.
Sexual misconduct cases brought against DOCs since
1996 and reported in this survey typically were individual civil cases rather than class action suits. In
1996, however, two responding DOCs were named in
class action suits. At least one agency was the subject
of a suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Substance of lawsuits. DOCs were not asked to
describe the issues raised in recent litigation on sexual
misconduct. However, some illustrative information
was provided:
n

A case brought against one DOC in 1997 alleged
deliberate indifference to staff sexual misconduct
and invasions of privacy of women inmates.
Under the terms of a settlement agreement, which
was dismissed in 1999, the DOC enhanced its
practices in several areas. Key points included

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

providing women inmates with information on
inappropriate staff-inmate behavior and how to
report it; providing psychological services to
inmates involved or alleged to have been involved
in inappropriate behavior with staff; revising preand in-service training; instituting a policy under
which male staff must notify their supervisors
when they will be alone in a secluded area with a
woman inmate; enhancing investigative procedures; and conducting stringent pre-employment
screening for all persons hired to positions with
significant contact with women inmates. In addition, the agency’s Female Programs Administrator
conducts random interviews with staff and
inmates.
n

A case in a second DOC was closed when the
inmate plaintiff confessed to lying.

n

In suit filed in 1992 against a third DOC, many of
the plaintiffs were unable to substantiate their
allegations, but one male correction officer was
convicted of a felony. The court held that this
officer’s conduct was outside the scope of
employment; therefore, the state was not held
liable.

Awards and Settlements. Since 1996, inmate plaintiffs in litigation against three DOCs have been
awarded damages in cases involving staff sexual misconduct, according to survey responses.
n

In one case, the court awarded $80,000 in damages.

n

In another case, damages of $3.35 million were
awarded. The case is on appeal and, according to
the survey respondent, is likely to be reversed.
The DOC is operating under a court order as a
result of a class action filed in 1992 in which no
damages were sought or awarded.

n

The third DOC has not tracked the dollar amount
of damages awarded in suits involving sexual
misconduct.

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

DOCs in several other jurisdictions noted that they
have settled one or more staff sexual misconduct
cases out of court. One state paid a total of $335,500
to settle five cases, and another paid $73,000 in one
case. Information on other settlement amounts, if any,
was not included with the survey responses.

Agency Strategies for Addressing Staff
Sexual Misconduct
DOCs across the country have implemented new policies, investigation practices, staff training, and inmate
education efforts since 1996 to reduce the incidence
of sexual misconduct. Policy actions are summarized
in Table 2, page 6, and other actions are summarized
in Table 3, page 8.
DOC Policies on Sexual Misconduct. DOCs are
increasingly recognizing the importance of defining a
no-tolerance stance toward staff sexual misconduct
through the department’s own administrative policies.
The number of DOCs with policies on staff sexual
misconduct has increased significantly since 1996. At
that time, only three DOCs had developed separate
policies that specifically addressed sexual misconduct;
more commonly, the topic was addressed in broader
policy sections on officer conduct or ethics.
Though 1996 policies in at least 15 DOCs included
direct and specific language about the sexual nature of
the behaviors prohibited, several agencies discussed
sexual misconduct only in very general terms that did
not express a clear position or contribute to prevention and enforcement.
The picture today is very different:
n

Since 1996, 20 DOCs have developed or revised
their policies related to sexual misconduct.

n

DOCs in an additional 12 jurisdictions were in the
process of developing or revising their policies at
the time of the survey.

5

Table 2. Policy Updates on Staff Sexual Misconduct
Status of New or Revised Policies
Completed
since 1996

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming
U.S. Bureau of Prisons
Guam
Puerto Rico

6

In progress

Planned or being
considered

Is Current Policy Language Explicit?
None

4

Yes
Not answered
4
4

4
4
4

4

4

4

4

4
4
4

4

4
4
4

4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4

4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4

4
4
4
4
4
4

4
4
4

4
4

4

4
4

4
4

4
4

4
4

4
4

4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4

4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4

4
4
4

No

4
4
4

4
4

4
4
4

4
4
4
4

No survey response
4

4
4

4
4

4
4

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

n

Three further DOCs were planning or considering
new policy development or revision in this area.

n

Of the 32 DOCs developing or updating their
policies on sexual misconduct since 1996, 24
indicated that their policy language is explicit in
defining and prohibiting sexual misconduct
between staff and inmates.

A few respondents provided background information
about the context for their policy development efforts.
n

One DOC respondent noted that the agency had
experienced some incidents of sexual misconduct
and related policies are being updated as a result.

n

Another DOC was updating its policy to make it
more specific in relation to volunteers and contract personnel.

n

A third respondent commented that a new policy
on sexual misconduct was being developed in
response to a recently enacted criminal statute.

Staff Training. Since 1996, 26 DOCs have developed
new staff training programs or substantially revised
their training on sexual misconduct involving staff
and inmates (see Table 3, page 8). Another eight agencies are in the process of developing new training for
staff on this topic. Most new training programs for
staff are designed specifically to reinforce DOC policies on sexual misconduct.

tions housing women offenders. Michigan’s revised
training includes 40 hours of preservice training on
critical issues in managing women offenders for new
staff assigned to women’s facilities. Staff in women’s
facilities receive an annual 6-hour seminar on
staff/prisoner interactions. The Vermont DOC is providing such training only at its new women’s facility
but plans to phase the topic into academy and inservice training at all facilities and field sites.
The BOP has implemented staff training regarding
sexual misconduct at several levels. New employees
are trained on the Bureau’s overall policy, and inservice training focuses on implementing the national
policy on a local level. Specialized training emphasizes the responsibilities of staff when responding to
incidents.
Investigation Processes. Nearly half of the
responding agencies (25 DOCs) have, since 1996,
completed an assessment of their investigation practices for responding to allegations of sexual
misconduct involving staff and inmates. Reviews
were underway in an additional three DOCs at the
time of the survey.
In contrast to 1996, when seven DOCs reported the
use of procedures unique to sexual misconduct cases,
at least the following 15 agencies have developed special procedures.
n

The human resources unit of the Alaska DOC
now has two staff dedicated to review, advice, and
investigation of all incidents involving staff misconduct.

n

In California, the DOC’s Office of Internal
Affairs, rather than institutional investigators, now
investigates allegations of sexual misconduct. The
DOC anticipates that a significant number of
Internal Affairs staff will acquire specialized
training related to sexual misconduct investigations. Additionally, if during an investigation the
employee exercises the right to resign, the investigation will still continue, and the DOC will take a
more active role in initiating prosecution of the
employee.

Of the agencies with new staff training on sexual misconduct:
n

Seventeen (17) DOCs address the topic in both
preservice and inservice training;

n

Six (6) DOCs cover staff sexual misconduct only
during inservice training;

n

Three (3) DOCs cover the topic only in basic or
preservice training.

The DOCs in Michigan, Oregon, Vermont, and
Virginia provide specialized training to staff at institu-

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

7

Table 3. Other Initiatives to Reduce Sexual Misconduct, 1996-1999
Staff Training
Completed

Alabama
4
Alaska
4
Arizona
4
Arkansas
California
4
Colorado
4
Connecticut
Delaware
4
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
4
Hawaii
4
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
4
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
4
4
Minnesota
Mississippi
4
Missouri
4
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
4
New Hampshire
New Jersey
4
New Mexico
4
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
4
Ohio
4
Oklahoma
4
Oregon
4
Pennsylvania
4
Rhode Island
South Carolina
4
South Dakota
Tennessee
4
Texas
Utah
Vermont
4
4
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
4
Wisconsin
No survey response
Wyoming
4
U.S. Bureau of Prisons
Guam
4
Puerto Rico

8

Investigation Process

In development

Completed

In development

Inmate Communication
Completed

In development

4
4

4

4
4
4

4

4

4

4
4
4
4
4

4

4
4

4
4

4
4

4

4

4
4

4

4
4
4

4

4

4

4

4
4
4
4
4

4

4
4

4
4
4
4
4
4

4

4

4

4

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

n

n

The Connecticut DOC now uses its telephone
monitoring system to determine whether inmates
have called staff at home and to track the types of
conversations that took place. The DOC also
works closely with the state police and has used
handwriting analysis and fingerprinting on documents found in inmates’ cells.
The District of Columbia DOC has appointed a
Sexual Misconduct Coordinator, who conducts a
preliminary screening of all sexual misconduct
complaints filed to determine whether the conduct
complained of constitutes sexual misconduct.
Valid complaints are referred for investigation by
the department’s trained investigators.

n

The Hawaii DOC has improved its investigation
practices by responding more quickly to allegations and by achieving better multi-agency
cooperation.

n

The Indiana DOC has elevated allegations of staff
sexual misconduct to priority level investigations.

n

The Michigan DOC implemented refined guidelines and requirements for investigators
conducting gender-based misconduct investigations.

n

The investigation procedure in Missouri has been
changed to incorporate specific language
regarding the investigation of alleged staff sexual
misconduct.

n

In New Hampshire, “the allegations are vigorously investigated and swift action is taken
against the alleged perpetrator.”

n

In New York, the Investigator General developed
a new sex crime unit in September 1996, which is
charged with investigating sexual misconduct
allegations. The investigators are trained in how
to conduct criminal investigations. This unit also
investigates all domestic violence complaints.

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies and Incidence
May 2000

n

Since 1998, the Oklahoma DOC has contracted
with a retired local police sex crimes investigator
to provide a training session to agency investigators.

n

Pennsylvania DOC staff participate in continuing
education and conferences on investigating staff
sexual misconduct.

n

The Tennessee DOC uses community/professional
resources in cases of rape; these resources include
rape crisis centers and the Employee Assistance
Program. Annual in-service training includes
interview processes that focus on the special
needs of sexually abused staff and inmates. The
interview process includes gender alignment to
ensure the least oppressive environment. Any
detectable issue involving the victim is reported
to the commissioner and staff for immediate intervention.

n

The Utah DOC is assessing its current investigation procedures based on a March 1999 NIC
seminar on the topic of sexual misconduct.

n

In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, specialized
training for staff investigators is conducted by
staff from the Office of Internal Affairs. The BOP
is also in the process of changing the OIA data
base to include more information about these
cases and is implementing a legal tracking system
to track these cases in detail. These data bases
will assist the BOP in identifying any significant
trends, factors, or patterns that will allow the
agency to deal more effectively with this issue.

Apprising Inmates of Sexual Misconduct Issues.
Since 1996, nine DOCs have developed new methods
or substantially revised their methods of informing
inmates about the issue of sexual misconduct (see
Table 3, page 8). Another eight agencies were in the
process of developing or updating their methods at the
time of the survey.

9

Several survey respondents provided details on these
efforts.

Incidence and Outcomes of Sexual
Misconduct

n

The Arizona DOC has posted high-visibility
reminders in inmate living and other areas that
remind readers of the agency's prohibition of
inappropriate staff-inmate behavior. The agency's
inmate orientation covers policies and consequences in detail and emphasizes confidentiality
and non-retaliation. Some materials have been
prepared in both English and non-English formats.

n

The orientation provided to women prisoners at
reception into the Michigan DOC has been
expanded to cover appropriate and inappropriate
staff and prisoner interactions. Women receive
information on reporting misconduct and the support and services available to prisoner-victims and
are provided a written guide in brochure form.

Incidence. Of the 53 agencies that responded to the
survey, only 36 provided data on substantiated incidents of sexual misconduct between staff and inmates
in their prisons in fiscal or calendar year 1998. (The
Alaska DOC provided data on calendar year 1999.)
Among the remaining DOCs, several indicated they
do not have a system in place for tracking sexual misconduct cases separately from other types of staff
misconduct. Others chose not to release data because
of current litigation. One agency could not respond
because its system for tracking incidents does not
include data on the sex of the inmate involved in allegations of staff sexual misconduct.

n

The New Mexico DOC has begun conducting
extensive discussions on the topic of sexual misconduct with inmates at the Reception and
Diagnostic area.

n

The Oklahoma DOC has developed an Offender
Orientation Manual, which explicitly defines and
prohibits over-familiarization and sexual misconduct between staff and inmates.

n

The DOC in Rhode Island is incorporating information on sexual misconduct into the inmate
handbooks of individual facilities as the handbooks are revised.

n

In Texas, an aggressive training/educational
process for informing inmates of the consequences of inappropriate staff/inmate relations has
been just implemented in response to DOC policy
and a new state law on this issue.

n

The Virginia DOC has developed brochures presented to inmates during orientation.

n

In the BOP, all inmates incarcerated as of
November 1998 received an orientation and pamphlets on sexual misconduct; since then, new
inmates receive these materials upon arrival at
any BOP facility.

10

Figure A, page 11, summarizes the number of substantiated incidents involving male and female
inmates, as reported by the 36 agencies that provided
data on sexual misconduct incidents. These figures
suggest no substantial difference in the numbers of
sexual misconduct incidents involving male and
female inmates, despite the marked difference in the
numbers of male and female inmates in U.S. prisons.
Although the data suggest that prison sexual misconduct may disproportionately involve women inmates,
this conclusion cannot reliably be drawn. Another
explanation may be that sexual misconduct involving
women inmates is currently the focus of more attention than that involving inmates who are men. If so,
the relative numbers may shift in the future as agencies broaden their focus to include the entire inmate
population.
Outcomes for Staff Involved. Respondents from 37
DOCs reported the outcomes of sexual misconduct
investigations in fiscal or calendar year 1998. (The
Alaska DOC provided data for calendar year 1999.)
n

Staff discharged. By far the most common outcome for staff involved in substantiated incidents
of sexual misconduct with inmates was to be discharged. More than 115 DOC staff were
discharged for sexual misconduct during the
1-year period reported. In at least one DOC, an
employee was discharged, then reinstated through
an arbitration process.

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

including three (3) contract staff, were convicted
of federal criminal charges of sexual misconduct.

Figure A. Incidence of Sexual Misconduct, Fiscal or
Calendar Year 1998
n

Substantiated Incidents Involving Female Inmates
>5

5 DOCs

3-5

Staff disciplined. DOCs reported that internal
disciplinary measures were used to deal with a
total of nine (9) staff involved in substantiated
sexual misconduct incidents.

11 DOCs

1-2

Respondents’ Views on the Problem of
Sexual Misconduct

6 DOCs

0

14 DOCs

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16

Number of DOCs Reporting

Causative Factors. Survey respondents were asked
to identify the factor(s) they observed to be the
leading cause of sexual misconduct involving staff
and inmates in their agencies.
n

The factor most often cited (36 respondents) was
“individual staff members who willfully disregard
policy and training.”

n

Six (6) respondents cited the “need for improved
staff training.”

n

A few survey respondents identified the influence
of institutional culture factors, such as the need to
offer more inclusion to minority and female staff.

n

Respondents also noted the influence of personal
characteristics, such as low self-esteem and vulnerability of staff. One observed that some
inmates have targeted vulnerable staff rather than
the reverse. Another noted that most incidents
have involved staff members who isolated themselves from their co-workers because of real or
perceived personal or professional difficulties. A
third respondent pointed to situational availability, noting, “Staff are aware sexual contact is
prohibited and at some point make the decision to
disregard. Staff are in a position to abuse prisoners and to be manipulated by prisoners who
have much time to detect staff weakness and
exploit it.”

Substantiated Incidents Involving Male Inmates
>5

5 DOCs

3-5

5 DOCs

1-2

12 DOCs

0

14 DOCs
0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16

Number of DOCs Reporting

n

Staff resigned. Staff resignations were the next
most common outcome for those involved in substantiated sexual misconduct incidents. At least
26 staff resignations resulted from sexual misconduct during the year. An additional 23 staff of the
BOP, including 8 contract staff, were either discharged or resigned in fiscal year 1998 alone. In
at least one DOC, a resignation is considered an
admission that the alleged behavior did occur,
unless evidence to the contrary is available.

n

Staff prosecuted. DOCs reported that at least 20
staff involved in substantiated sexual misconduct
were prosecuted. Sixteen (16) BOP staff,

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies and Incidence
May 2000

Eight agency respondents indicated that the question
was not applicable, as sexual misconduct incidents
have been rare or non-existent in their prisons.

11

Prevention Strategies. The survey also asked which
strategies for reducing sexual misconduct were considered most likely to be effective.
A number of strategies had the support of many
respondents:
n

Staff training (28 respondents);

n

Full prosecution of staff offenders (7);

n

New legislation, or more stringent penalties for
conviction on sexual misconduct charges (7);

n

New, revised, or strengthened policies on staff
sexual misconduct (7);

n

Prompt and thorough intervention and investigations (5); and

n

Strong disciplinary actions (4).

Smaller numbers of respondents identified other focus
areas, including new or improved inmate training,
greater central office review, improved incident
tracking and consistency of response, confidential and
random interviews with prisoners and exit interviews
as inmates are released, increased security through
cameras, etc., effective employee assistance programs, reliance on numerous strategies for deterrence
and prevention rather than a single one, focus groups
on institutional culture factors, mentoring programs
for new hires, and continued vigilance. One respondent noted that staff “must focus on self-awareness
and must be aware of their fellow officers and be
ready to intervene.”

Conclusion
This study confirmed that there has been considerable
activity in the past 3 years on the part of states and
DOCs in attempting to prevent or reduce sexual misconduct involving prison staff and inmates. Changes
in agency policy, staff training, and new statutes
reflect an increasingly proactive stance toward preventing and responding to staff sexual misconduct.
Data reviewed separately by NIC suggest more cases
are now being investigated as a result of new attention to prison sexual misconduct. As this issue
continues to be tracked by correctional managers,
future data may show that today’s efforts have been
effective in reducing the incidence of sexual misconduct.
Based on the experiences of DOCs and the lessons
agencies have learned in applying remedies to their
own situations, NIC is planning to develop a resource
document on staff sexual misconduct that is expected
to be available in fiscal 2001. For further information
on NIC programs and assistance in this area, contact
Andie Moss at (800) 995-6423, extension 140, or
amoss@bop.gov.n

Several DOCs described multifaceted efforts that
together communicate the “zero tolerance” stance of
their agencies. In the BOP, for example, these include
an emphasis on duty to report; an emphasis on a prohibition against retaliation towards those who report
incidents; the development of a video featuring the
BOP director; and inmate orientations and pamphlets
on how to report incidents locally, to regional offices,
or to the Office of Internal Affairs.

12

Sexual Misconduct in Prisons: Law, Remedies, and Incidence
May 2000

 

 

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