Prisons of Passion

ByABC News
April 9, 2007, 7:38 PM

April 9, 2007 — -- It was the ultimate inside job.

While springing her husband, George Hyatte, from jail last year, prison nurse Jennifer Hyatte shot and killed a guard. The couple then set off a two-day interstate manhunt.

They met while George, convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated assault, was serving a 35-year sentence at the Riverbend maximum-security prison in Nashville, Tenn.

Relationships between corrections staff and inmates, experts say, can upset a prison's delicate balance and lead to escapes, murders and other violent crimes.

"Sex between inmates and staff is illegal in all states and a felony in some," said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. "It's bad for professional management, bad for safety and bad for the well-being of officers. You can't run a prison well if there are sexual relationships between guards and inmates."

According to government statistics, most sexual contact between corrections staff and inmates occurs between female employees and male prisoners.

"One misconception about staff sexual abuse of inmates is that it only involves male staff engaging in sexual relations with female inmates. As the statistics indicate, the scope of the problem also includes female staff with male inmates, male staff with male inmates and female staff with female inmates," wrote the Department of Justice in a report by its Office of the Inspector General.

Forty-seven percent of all cases of sexual abuse cases from 2000 to 2004 involved women employees and their male charges. Men were 4 percent less likely to abuse female inmates.

Last week Magdalena Sanchez, 35, a former psychologist at a federal prison in Brooklyn, N.Y., was arraigned and freed on $100,000 bail after being charged with having sex for several months in 2005 with a prisoner in her care.

Prison staff are "not even supposed to 'fraternize' with inmates in fear of being manipulated. From a staff perspective, it puts other staff at risk and undermines the prison's mission," Fellner said.