Why Female Prison Employees May Risk Having Sexual Relationships With Inmates

One former female corrections officer is providing an insider perspective.

July 2, 2015, 12:30 AM

— -- As allegations emerged about the potential relationship between two escaped convicted felons and a prison employee, one former female corrections officer is providing an insider perspective on forbidden love behind bars.

According to Robin Kay Miller, 53, a corrections officer for nearly 20 years until she retired in 2005, sex between officers and inmates has always been an issue in prison. Miller is writing a book about her experience working in the prison system.

“Inmates are con artists,” she said. “They know how to play the game and they know how to manipulate.”

Joyce Mitchell, a 51-year-old prison tailor shop worker, was arrested last month on charges that she helped convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt escape from a maximum security prison in upstate New York. She has pleaded not guilty to promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation.

Officials also investigated Mitchell for a suspected relationship with Sweat during the past year, but no action was taken against her at the time.

Prison officials were investigating whether she may have been having sex with other inmates. Mitchell’s lawyer said she consistently denied the allegation.

Former inmate Erik Jensen, who worked at the prison tailor shop with Matt, Sweat and employee Joyce Mitchell three years ago, said Sweat paid Mitchell a lot of attention.

“We had a joke,” Jensen said. “It was like, that was his boo, that was his girl… she would bring him like barbeque chicken, spareribs, things that were cooked on her home grill.”

Miller, who did not work at the prison where Matt and Sweat escaped from, the Clinton Correctional Facility, said in her experience usually male inmates will target the female officers.

“They look for the weak. They look for insecurity,” she said. “They look if they’re beautiful, body parts, the unintelligent, the not so bright, and then they look for the hustler, hustler females, and then they look for the promiscuous females.”

“The inmate would throw the compliments you know, ‘Baby you look good today, oh your hair looks nice,’” Miller continued. “Men know there are things that woman like to hear.”

According to federal government reports, sexual relationships between inmates and prison employees are fairly common. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report in January 2014 reviewing data collected on sexual victimization in prisons from 2009 to 2011, in which they found that almost half – 48 percent -- of substantiated incidents of sexual victimization involved guards and inmates, while the other 52 percent involved only inmates.

Gender appeared to play some kind of role in the nature of the banned relationships, as 84 percent of the relationships that female staffers had with inmates "appeared to be willing," whereas only 37 percent of the relationships between male guards and inmates qualified as such, according to the report.

Although the inmates are supposed to be monitored 24/7, Miller said, that it’s “very easy” for a female corrections officer to have sex with an inmate inside a prison.

“You have blind spots,” she said. “They’re taking them in the officers’ bathroom… or you have female officers that have steady posts like sanitation or where they can take the inmate out of the housing area.”

A string of recent cases of prison misconduct have focused on female officers and workers inside the prison system having relationships with inmates.

Aside from the case of Sweat and Mitchell, there was a second case in June of a female prison employee’s alleged sexual relationship with an inmate having a connection with a North Carolina jailbreak.

Earlier this year in Oregon, two jail staffers, Brett Robinson and Jill Curry, admitted to sneaking an inmate out for sex. Both are now behind bars after being charged with custodial sexual misconduct.

In 2013, a Baltimore inmate and notorious gang leader was accused of having sexual relations with multiple female officers and impregnating four of them. That same year in New York, prison guard Nancy Gonzalez was arrested – and later sentenced to a year and a day – for sexual abuse after getting pregnant by an inmate she was guarding who was doing time for killing a police officer.

Not to mention that the number of female corrections officers in male prison facilitates has gone up in recent years – up from 24 percent to 40 percent between 2001 and 2007, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Miller said some female corrections officers are willing to risk their jobs for the sake of having the relationship with an inmate because they like the attention and they get emotionally attached.

“Them dealing with an inmate in jail is no different than them dealing with a man in the street,” Miller said. “Female corrections officers, we’re on that job basically eight to 16 hours a day doing overtime. Every day. That’s basically our second home and if they don’t have anybody at home or their man is not treating them right and then they come to work and this man is full of compliments and just telling them that he loves and them and he gone suck them in. Once you get sucked in, you not thinking it’s wrong.”

ABC's Meghan Keneally contributed to this report.

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