Safe Sex in Jail

Safe sex is generally defined as a set of practices designed to reduce the risk of transmitting or acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However, in a jail setting,the definition of safe sex is expanded. Insofar as a jail officer is concerned, “safe sex” is translated “no sex.”

Unfortunately, there are too many instances of jail officers being involved sexually with inmates. The outcome is never good, often resulting in health, family and legal consequences for the offending officer.

A National Problem
Sometimes headlines scream at us. A headline in the July 17, 2006, edition of the Baton Rouge, LA, Morning Advocate newspaper read, “For Prison Guard Sentenced To Five Years.” The article went on to tell the story of a 43 year old male prison officer who was sentenced to five years in prison and fine $5,000 for having sex with an inmate, then lying about it to the FBI. The former officer coerced a male inmate to perform oral sex with the threat of confining him with dangerous inmates. The incident took place in 2001. The inmate subsequently filed a civil suit against the officer.

The July 26, 2006, edition of The Seattle Times reported that a female King County juvenile corrections officer “was charged Tuesday with four counts of custodial misconduct for allegedly bribing two teenage boys with food, candy and other perks in exchange for sex.” reported in June 22, 2006, “A deadly gun battle broke out at a federal prison Wednesday when a corrections officer opened fire as federal agents tried to arrest him and other guards on charges they traded drugs for sex, officials in Tallahassee, Florida, said…The indictment alleges that during the past three years, the defendants would bring in contraband to FCI Tallahassee to sell and to use as payment in exchange for sexual contact with inmates.” The inmates were described as low security females. reported in August 2003, “A sex scandal is rocking the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. Three jail guards are accused of having sex with female inmates inside the Cook County Jail. It is alleged that corrections officers gave the inmates cash, food and other items in exchange for sex…So far, three deputies have been caught having sex with seven inmates.”

A website, Computer Voices, reported in February 2005, “Colorado Prison Sex Scandal Unfolding.” According to the posting, “The warden has resigned at a private prison housing female inmates in Brush, Colorado. An investigation has revealed that three or more guards have had sex with several prisoners. They are about to be charged with a crime.”

Two May, 2005, articles in The Detroit News reveal an ongoing problem. (Note: Names have been omitted) The first article stated, “On July 22, 2004, two days after Internal Affairs Investigators questioned (officer) about love letters he wrote a female inmate, the 53 year old guard walked onto his front lawn in Coldwater and shot himself in the head. Department investigative records show that (officer) had a sexual relationship with (inmate) for nearly a decade…He was the second guard to commit suicide after being accused of sexual misconduct with female prisoners. In February 1990, 40 year old (officer) shot himself in his Battle Creek home two days after prosecutors obtained a warrant charging him with raping (inmate) in her cell…Although sex with guards and inmates is illegal even when consensual (inmate) said other guards and supervisors knew of the affair but never reported it. She said another male guard frequently acted as a lookout for (officer) when he arranged sexual trysts with her in classrooms, laundry rooms or wherever the opportunity arose.”

The second Detroit News article is, “Pregnant inmates name guards as dads.” The article stated, “ (Inmate), (inmate), and (inmate) were troubled young women who knew prisons could be dangerous places. They never expected the danger would come from the men hired to guard and protect them. The three women share a uniquely tragic experience. They gave birth in prison to children fathered by guards hired to look after them.”

A headline in the July 20, 2006, edition of Deseret News reads, “Sentencing For Jail Sex.” The article went on to tell the story of two deputies sentenced to 120 days in jail and a $1,500 fine for their roles in a sex scandal at Washington County’s Purgatory Jail. Three former jail inmates who claim they had sex with jail officers have filed a Notice to Sue to the county and the state. In imposing the sentence, (judge), borrowing words attributed to the great philosopher, Spider Man, stated, “With great power comes great responsibility…” (Judge) went on to say, “You abused your authority over these women, and I’m troubled because it occurred on multiple occasions.” Indeed there are great responsibilities on the part of corrections officers.

The website,, reported on March 13, 2007, that two female Sacramento County, California, female deputies have resigned over allegations that they had phone sex with jail inmates while on duty., an Idaho news website, reported on Marcy 27, 2007, that two Gem County Jail deputies have been charged with felony sexual conduct with inmate. Both deputies resigned after having been charged with the offense.

It is not always the jail officer who has an inappropriate sexual relationship with an inmate. reported on January 30, 2009, “A former prison secretary has been sentenced to six months in federal prison for having sex with an inmate she was supposed to be supervising…(secretary) was sentenced Thursday for sexual abuse of a ward. After serving her sentence, she will serve five years of supervised release and must register as a sex offender…”

These media accounts are but several examples of a problem that has existed for years. Whereas years ago such behavior might be met with internal discipline, suspension or termination, the consequences have changed in recent years. Prosecution and jail/prison sentences, along with extensive media coverage, have now been added to the mix.

Recognizing The Problem

Sexual misconduct with inmates is about more than sex. It includes a wide range of inappropriate behaviors associated more with the exercise and abuse of power than with a sexual act.

Has sexual misconduct occurred in your jail? Most likely it has. It could be occurring now, right now, while you are reading this. There are many behaviors that might be seen as clues to the existence of sexual misconduct. Among them are:

  • Over-identifying with an inmate (“my inmate”) or the issues associated with that inmate
  • Horse play or interaction between officers and inmates
  • Inmates knowing personal information about officers
  • Officers having excessive personal knowledge about an inmate and his/her family
  • Inmate has letters from or photos of officers
  • Officers granting special requests or showing favoritism
  • Officers spending an unexplainable amount of time with an inmate
  • Telephone calls to and from officers and inmates
  • Inmate/officer rumors
  • Officer confronting another officer over an inmate
  • Officer who can’t account for his/her time
  • Officer involved with inmate’s family
  • Officer working in a secluded area with an inmate
  • Officer taking inmate out of cell at unusual times
  • Officer testifying for an inmate or requesting special treatment for in inmate
  • Overheard conversations between officer and inmate which contain sexual content
  • Overheard conversations which refer to the physical attributes of officer or inmate
  • Inmate using officer’s first name or officer using inmate’s first name

Jail officers should always listen with their ears and their eyes Be alert for any unusual behavior which might indicate that an inappropriate relationship exists between an officer and an inmate. Any inappropriate behavior should be reported to a supervisor. At the same time,officers should be alert for any inappropriate behavior directed to them by an inmate. If that occurs, document the behavior and your response which should be designed to let the inmate know that such behavior is unacceptable.

Legal Issues
On September 4, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) into public law, marking the first time the United States government has ever passed an act to deal with sexual assault behind bars. PREA focuses on inmate-on-inmate sexual violence as well as sexual acts involving staff,including:

  • any behavior of a sexual nature directed toward an inmate by an employee, volunteer, official visitor, or agency representative
  • all completed, attempted, threatened or requested sexual acts between staff and inmates
  • any incident of intentional touching of the genitals, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks with the intent to abuse, arouse or gratify sexual desire
  • incidents of indecent exposure, invasion of privacy for sexual gratification, or staff voyeurism

Most states have specific statutes covering relationships between officers and inmates. In jail settings, inmate consent is not a defense. Sexual contact between officers and inmates is considered to be coercive sex based on the status of the inmate as being dependent on the jail and its personnel or the basic everyday necessities of life.

State law usually makes custodial sexual misconduct a felony punishable by prison time and/or fines.

Protecting jail inmates from staff sexual misconduct is part and parcel of the overall “duty to protect” which has been clearly spelled out by various courts. When a jail assumes responsibility for an inmate, a duty incurs to provide a reasonable degree of protection for that inmate, including protection from sexual misconduct.

Consequences of Sexual Misconduct
The consequences of sexual misconduct are many – none of which have positive outcomes.

  • Sexually Transmitted Disease — A primary consequence of sexual misconduct with inmates is the risk of an officer contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Many inmates are intravenous drug users and/or sexually promiscuous. The risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, is high.Female inmates traditionally experience high rates of STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV) and Chlamydia. According to a 2002 National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) report, there were at least 200,000 inmates in the nation’s prisons and jails who had some type of STD and were released into the community in 1997. In that same year, there were an estimated 46,000 to 76,000 inmates with syphilis, approximately 43,000 with Chlamydia, and roughly 18,000 more with gonorrhea.
  • Pregnancy – The risk of pregnancy is always present when sexual intercourse occurs, even if basic precautions have been taken.
  • Staph Infection — Staph infection, generally known as MRSA,is present in most, if not all, jail settings. MRSA is easily spread from one person to another through poor sanitation practices or through skin-to-skin contact. Sexual contact with a MRSA infected inmate is almost certain to result in MRSA transmission to the offending officer.
  • Termination – A jail officer who is found guilty of sexual misconduct with an inmate is certain to be terminated. Jail officials who are concerned not only with running a professional jail operation but also with managing their liability exposure have little recourse other than to terminate a guilty officer.
  • Publicity – Publicity is certain to follow a discovery of sexual misconduct. While many people enjoy seeing their name in the paper or their image on television,this is not the case if the report focuses on sexual misconduct.
  • Litigation — Civil lawsuits are a byproduct of staff sexual misconduct. Inmates who claim victimization by officers seem to attract plaintiff attorneys who subsequently file lawsuits against guilty jail officers, jail officials, the Sheriff, the county and anyone else who might have direct or indirect involvement in the operation of the jail. Local media outlets will dutifully report each sordid detail of the litigation.
  • Prosecution – Much attention has been focused on jail sexual misconduct issues. Local, state and federal prosecutors usually are quick to take action when such incidents occur.
  • Jail or prison time – Convictions in such cases usually result in jail or prison sentences for the offending officer.
  • Divorce and child custody – There is always the risk of losing a spouse (divorce) and children (custody) as the result of sexual misconduct with an inmate.

Preventing Sexual Misconduct
While there may be no guaranteed formula to prevent all sexual misconduct in a jail, there are steps which can be taken not only to educate staff to the problem but also to protect the liability of jail officials.

  • Training – A basic initial step is to implement training focused on sexual misconduct. New staff should be made aware of the pitfalls of sexually involvement with inmates as well as becoming personally involved with any inmate and/or the inmate’s family.Training should focus on legal issues as well as signs to watch out for when a jail officer is getting too close to an inmate. Annual refresher training should be offered for all staff.Staff should be specifically trained in cross gender supervision. Specific guidelines for cross gender assignments should address EEOC requirements and any labor/management contract issues.
  • Zero tolerance – A clearly stated “zero tolerance” written policy on sexual misconduct should be in place. The policy must be enforced with all employees.The policy should include specific prohibited behaviors,not just general language such as “over-familiarity” or “conduct unbecoming.” The policy should include,but not be limited to:
    • touching
    • hugging
    • kissing
    • sexual assault
    • penetration
    • fondling
    • inappropriate viewing
    • sexual harassment
    • sexual gratification
    • romantic relationships with inmates
    • post-release relationships with former inmates

    The policy should also include mandatory reporting of sexual misconduct, consequences for failing to report and safeguards for those who report, including prohibitions against retaliation.

  • Inmate procedure – Inmates should have a procedure to report sexual misconduct without incurring discipline or retaliation. There should be a system whereby inmates can report such alleged misconduct to objective parties rather than to fellow officers or even the offending officer if he/she is a supervisor.
  • Investigation – All allegations of sexual misconduct should be investigated immediately, followed by immediate and appropriate action, regardless of the rank of the offending officer. A good investigative and disciplinary system is essential.

Supervisor’s Responsibility

  • Supervisors must know the policy against staff sexual misconduct and enforce the policy uniformly.
  • Supervisors must prevent sexual misconduct whenever possible and watch for signs that a hostile environment may be developing.
  • Supervisors must be role models for subordinates,other personnel and civilians.
  • Supervisors must take all complaints of sexual misconduct seriously and respond to complaints quickly, decisively and fairly.
  • Supervisors must properly document and report all complaints of sexual misconduct up the chain of command.
  • Supervisors must ensure that all complaints are kept confidential except for revealing through proper investigative channels.
  • Supervisors must protect staff and inmates who have made complaints of sexual misconduct or have provided information related to an alleged incident of sexual misconduct. Retaliation must not occur.
  • Supervisors must refer to medical/mental health if such intervention is indicated.

What To Expect If There Is Litigation
If sexual misconduct occurs in your jail and the incident is followed by litigation, you should be prepared to respond to the following questions:

  • Was a policy in place prohibiting sexual misconduct?
  • Was the policy enforced?
  • Was there a system in place for reporting allegations of custodial sexual misconduct?
  • Was there a system in place for investigating allegations of custodial sexual misconduct?
  • Was there an investigation and was the investigation conducted by an external law enforcement agency?
  • Were special measures taken to shield the alleged victim from retaliation?
  • Was medical assessment available for the victim of the alleged sexual misconduct?
  • Were mental health/counseling services available for the victim of the alleged sexual misconduct?

All of this will be wrapped inside a cloak of complaints, investigations, interrogatories, depositions and negative publicity. An unpleasant experience is guaranteed for all jail personnel, whether or not they were directly implicated in the alleged sexual misconduct.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is a simple equation; namely, “Safe Sex In Jail = No Sex In Jail.”

However, if you really want to jeopardize your reputation,your health, your marriage, your family, your job, your career and perhaps even your freedom, then you might choose to have sexual contact with an inmate. I assure you that the pleasure of that moment will haunt you for a lifetime and your punishment will be well deserved.

Mike Haley,Ph.D.
Mike Haley is Chief Criminal Deputy for the Washington Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office. He has managed both local and state corrections facilities and has held several positions, including Director of Jail Services for the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association and Commissioner of Corrections for the State of Alabama. In addition, he has served as a trainer and jail litigation expert witness in several states, is a NIJO instructor and a member of the NIJO Jail Advisory Council (JAC). Mike earned a Ph.D. degree in Psychology and Counseling and began his corrections career in New Orleans at the Orleans Parish Prison.