Professional Misconduct Between Non-Custodial Staff and Inmates: A Study of Queensland's Correctional Centres
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In January 2000, an inexperienced young psychologist was jailed in Queensland for perjuring herself1 about the sexual relationships she was having with male inmates in a Queensland prison. Several years earlier, an experienced senior psychologist in Queensland DCS was jailed for the abuse of male inmates who complied with his sexual demands in return for favourable parole reports. Colleagues incredulously shook their heads and wondered why? How did these relationships, whether abusive or not, develop? Were they a product of the types of individuals involved? Were they, as some theorists would argue, for personal gain such as sexual services, status and power? Were the non-custodial staff members poor ethical decision-makers? Were they or the inmates attempting to redress the imbalance of power? Did lack of adequate training and preparedness for the toughness and harshness of a prison environment, or the inadequacy of ethical training contribute? What role did poor management, lack of adequate supervision or inadequate or absent regulation play? Did the 'culture' of a correctional centre, similar to that observed in policing, impact on both staff and inmates to the extent that cognitive neutralisations could be developed to justify the behaviours? To answer 'why', this thesis specifically examined the nature of unacceptable relationships between inmates and non-custodial staff, whether in the form of minor professional boundary transgressions, official misconduct or outright corruption, and asked: What key factors in a correctional environment initiate misconduct, and, once facilitated, permit its continuance? Examination of the literature to locate this problem revealed multiple theoretical perspectives (individual, regulatory, organisational and situational), with little in the way of previous empirical studies. Therefore, a framework of explanation was developed from Ekblom and Tilley's Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity (2000) model, incorporating components of Tittle's (1995) balance of control theory and Tsang's (2002) notion of moral rationalisation. A multi-method research design that could triangulate quantitative and qualitative outcomes from three studies, test a case 'While under investigation by the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission' study, and sequentially build information against the model of explanation, was proposed. Subsequently, the second research question asked was: Can the factors, once identified, be applied to a model of explanation that posits that crime occurs with the conjunction of a number of situational opportunities and a well-resourced offender? The findings of the three studies contribute significantly to the field of penology and criminology, not only because they present a typology of non-custodial staff behaviours for the first time, but also because they identify a number of important processes and factors involved in the interaction between non-custodial staff and inmates. Primary amongst these was the influence of an unethical managerial culture within the correctional centre and the lack of rigorous regulation to encourage compliance with codes of conduct. The use of moral rationalisations that appealed to the higher professional good were suggested by staff as a means of neutralising minor boundary transgressions, as were the distortion of any negative consequences. Initial boundary crossings appear to be done more often than not in good faith, but represent the 'soft capture' of professional staff attempting to juggle the dual role of compassionate humanitarian with the demands of the secure good order of the prison. Equally, inmates, in their attempt to gain some control over their environment may allow staff to abuse their positions for fear of retribution or for favours. Induction or ethics training did not seem to make any difference to the perception of misconduct, and in fact, when non-custodial staff undertook the harsher, security-oriented training for custodial staff, they were more likely to be accepting of certain types of misconduct. Abuse of confidential information, and to a lesser extent negligence and deliberate indifference, were perceived by inmates as the worst forms of professional misconduct, yet non-custodial staff underestimated the power of information within a prison as negotiable currency. Equally, inmates were better able to predict the perceptions of non-custodial staff than vice-versa, indicting that they 'knew' staff, could recognise those who were vulnerable, and subsequently 'groom' them to transgress minor professional boundaries. Although some evidence existed that there were higher levels of acceptance of misconduct in rural or regional correctional centres, away from the central locus of control of the DCS head Office in Brisbane city, the mixed gender of inmates in these centres as opposed to the city-based centres may have also influenced the results. The portrayal of inmate masculinity within a system of punishment, amongst female professional staff is a more contentious issue and features in the final recommendations made in this thesis, along with others related to increasing the capacity of crime preventers and decreasing the capacity of crime promoters in the prison environment. Finally, the thesis asked whether it was possible to effectively research the sensitive topic of corruption and misconduct in the threatening world of a prison? Prisons are de-humanising environments that are traditionally defensive and aggressive, and asking about the secretive side of misconduct posed ethical dilemmas and methodological challenges, both for the researched and the researcher. However, by adopting components of Appreciative Inquiry (Liebling, Price & Elliot, 1999) and principled intimacy (D. Kennedy, 1997), it was possible to rigorously research the sensitive and sometimes dangerous topic of corruption in Queensland's correctional centres. Nonetheless, it was done so at the cost of non-custodial staff respondent identification. Although their willingness to participate might have reflected their desire to equally understand 'why', the non-custodial staff only did so if they were able to remain anonymous. This limitation of the study suggests that a culture of secrecy and fear of retribution still remains in Queensland's correctional centres despite efforts from regulatory bodies within the Qld Department of Corrective Services, and externally, to rectify the situation. The challenge therefore is for the findings of this research to be implemented into practical changes that reduce the likelihood of entrapment of non-custodial staff, that decrease the abuse of power that staff have over inmates, that recognises the adaptation that inmates must make to survive in a de-humanising environment, and that increases the ethical management of prisons.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice
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