Addressing Staff Sexual Misconduct with Offenders

National Institute of Corrections
American University Washington College of Law
March 12-17, 2006

American Correctional Association
Public Correctional Policy on Staff Sexual Misconduct With Offenders
Jan 12, 2005


Staff sexual misconduct with offenders in correctional environments is wrong and is unlawful in nearly all states. It should be unlawful in all states. Sexual misconduct is defined as any behavior or act of any sexual nature directed toward an inmate, detainee or an offender, by an employee, vendor, contractor, volunteer or any other agency representative.

Sexual misconduct includes, but is not limited to, committing or attempting to commit acts such as sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual contact, obscenity, unreasonable and unnecessary invasion of privacy, behavior of a sexual nature or implication, and conversations or correspondence suggesting a romantic or sexual relationship. Sexual misconduct may occur between individuals of either sex and may involve interactions between staff and inmates of the same sex. There can never be "consensual sex" in a custodial or supervisory relationship.

Sexual misconduct in correctional environments:

  • Violates the constitutional rights of detainees/offenders;
  • Violates the American Correctional Association's Code of Ethics
  • Jeopardizes facility and operational security;
  • Exposes the entire agency and staff to civil and criminal liability;
  • Creates a hostile work environment;
  • Destroys trust among staff and detainees/offenders;
  • Corrupts professionals by inviting dishonesty and compromise;
  • Reflects poorly on the dedicated professionals who work in corrections;
  • Victimizes those already vulnerable due to their susceptibility to inappropriate
  • behavior, their history of abuse and their subordinate position; and
  • Undermines the public support and trust of the agency, facility and staff

Policy Statement:

Contact of a sexual nature between an employee or someone acting on behalf of, or in cooperation with, a correctional agency with a detainee, inmate or offender is wrong and should be unlawful in all states. There can never be "consensual sex" in a custodial or supervisory relationship. Any sexual conduct between employees or agents and offenders is inconsistent with the professional and ethical principles of the American Correctional Association. ACA advocates for the prompt reporting and thorough, professional investigation of all allegations of misconduct by those with the responsibility and authority to handle such matters. The agency's response should include referral for administrative and/or criminal prosecution consistent with departmental policy and state and federal statutes.

ACA recommends that correctional agencies should:

Support and/or strengthen legislation making sexual contact with offenders/detainees a felony offense and eliminating consent as a defense;

Establish, publicize and enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding all forms of sexual misconduct;

Develop and adopt specific, clear and concise policies and definitions that clarify interpretations of the term "sexual misconduct" and that provide clear direction for the agency's response to violations of the policies;

Foster an environment in which the reporting of alleged sexual misconduct is encouraged and reports may be made without fear of reprisal;

Establish partnerships with prosecutors, medical providers, mental health providers and others who can provide advice, support and direct services to detainees/offenders who are victims of staff sexual misconduct;

Develop policies and procedures that clearly explain the investigative process to staff and offenders, including policies on transfer and movement or separation of the people alleged to be involved;

Establish mental health and medical protocols addressing investigative procedures;

Provide orientation and ongoing in-service training to staff, volunteers and contractors, emphasizing the zero-tolerance policy, explaining state law, case law and administrative policies on the issue, and providing the skills needed to effectively manage offenders;

Provide appropriate orientation to anyone having contact with offenders;

Provide intensive training, resources and support for personnel assigned to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct;

Provide detainee/offender orientation and ongoing education on staff sexual misconduct that includes information on the zero-tolerance policy, how to report allegations, how to obtain medical and mental health services, how to seek relief against retaliation for reporting allegations, and possible disciplinary actions for making false allegations;

Report all instances of sexual misconduct to the proper authorities for investigation and possible criminal action; and

Establish a systematic process for the collection of data that document the number of sexual misconduct allegations, the nature of each allegation and the resolution of the allegation.

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