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Relationships between prison officers and inmates are ‘a very common story’

While authorities confirmed there was a “special relationship” between an Alabama corrections officer and the prisoner she disappeared with last week, criminal justice and legal experts said they don’t were not surprised by this development.

The close proximity between staff and inmates, the lack of inmate privacy, and the dynamic between female staff and male inmates in correctional facilities can create opportunities for inappropriate bonding, they said.

It’s “a very common story,” said Brenda Smith, a law professor at American University and director of the Prison Rape Project.

“I think it’s kind of the construction of supervision in those settings that creates those environments and those opportunities,” Smith said, adding that those facilities are sexualized environments, where male inmates lack privacy and the female staff often experience sexual harassment from inmates or other staff.

Vicky White, 56, is wanted for enabling or facilitating the escape of Casey White, 38, from Lauderdale County Jail, Sheriff Rick Singleton said at a news conference Monday. Vicky and Casey White are not related.

The Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that investigators spoke with inmates at the jail and confirmed there was a “special relationship” between Vicky and Casey White. The precise nature of the relationship has not been revealed.

Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office employee, Deputy Director of Corrections Vicky White.Sheriff of Lauderdale County/AFP – Getty Images

The case drew comparisons to a similar case from 2015, in which Joyce Mitchell, a former prison seamstress, helped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from a correctional facility in Dannemora, New York. Mitchell, accused of having sexual contact with Matt, pleaded guilty to a smuggling charge and was sentenced to seven years in prison. She was released early from her sentence in 2020.

Peter Dumas, who served as a lawyer for Joyce Mitchell and her husband Lyle Mitchell, said while it may not be a “popular opinion” he believed prison and prison staff could be manipulated by inmates the same way people are manipulated by crooks.

“It’s the kind of place where Joyce Mitchell was,” he said.

From what authorities have said about Vicky White, her actions were “obviously something out of character,” Dumas said.

“It seems from all that she was a model employee. So what is causing this? Is there some sort of mental health issue? Is there some sort of undue influence ? ” he said.

Singleton said Vicky White “was an exemplary employee” with 17 years “of an unblemished record, not a single negative thing in her personnel file”.

“She was admired and respected by her colleagues and subordinates,” he said. “It was a total shock.”

John McCulloch, a former Lauderdale County inmate who has known Vicky White for about 15 years, told NBC News she was “loved” by everyone in prison.

“She was trying to help everybody get out of there and out into the streets,” said McCulloch, who added he was shocked by the news because White was a rule follower. “I didn’t think she would go this far but, you know, she’s doing everything she can to help everyone in this.”

Terry Pelz, a senior criminal justice associate at the University of Houston Downtown and a former prison warden, said working long hours in close proximity to inmates and staffing shortages could create opportunities for inappropriate relationship formation.

He said some inmates even seek relationships with staff members or try to manipulate them into giving them access to contraband or other favors.

Vicky White left the detention center on Friday, allegedly to take Casey White for a mental health evaluation in court. But such an assessment was never planned, Singleton said.

Surveillance video shows the two drove straight to a mall, where the marked 2013 Ford Taurus patrol car they were traveling in was found. They never stopped at the courthouse.

“Obviously there was no appearance here at the courthouse for him,” Singleton said.

White sold her house a few weeks ago and had been talking about retiring for three or four months with her colleagues, saying she was going to retire on May 1, he said.

Relationships between prison officers and inmates are ‘a very common story’
Escaped inmate Casey Cole White.Lauderdale County Sheriff/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Casey White was charged in September 2020 with two counts of capital murder for stabbing 58-year-old Connie Ridgeway. At the time, he was already in jail for a 2015 home invasion, carjacking and police pursuit, according to the US Marshals Service. He confessed to stabbing Ridgeway and was awaiting trial in Lauderdale County Jail when he disappeared, according to the agency.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding Vicky and Casey White’s relationship, Smith said the incident highlights some failings in prison conditions, especially a culture that doesn’t take a relationship between an employee and an employee as seriously. prisoner than she does between a male employee and prisoner.

“I think there really needs to be a closer look at what’s going on in the facility, and not just for the inmates, but also for the staff,” she said.

Such a relationship damages “the integrity of the system”, she said. “Because obviously if that could happen, if the officer could pretty much get away with the prisoner, then that speaks to a larger issue of lack of security in the facility, which should trouble all of us. levels,” she said.


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