Law
5:36 pm
Mon August 22, 2011

'Bad Hair Bandit' raises questions about staff-inmate relationships

The case of the "Bad Hair Bandit" raises questions some prison experts say haven't been fully addressed in the correctional system. Police believe a woman from north Idaho is the wigged robber who stole money from banks in Tacoma, Spokane, Lake Oswego and other cities on the West Coast.

Cynthia Van Holland, 47, was a nurse at a medium-security prison south of Boise in 2006. At the same time, 26-year-old Christopher Alonzo was doing time for forgery.

The two married in March. Both have been arrested for allegedly hitting up 20 banks.

The prison atmosphere

Federal law prohibits sexual relationships between prison staff and inmates. But those rules are primarily aimed at addressing abuse by officers.

Dr. Maureen Hackett, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota, says the isolated atmosphere of prison can create unusual bonds between health care providers and inmates.

"And I think these men can be – and prisoners in general can be – quite manipulative and people maybe don't see that they're being manipulated," Hackett says.

A study in the current Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law recommends greater training on maintaining boundaries for female prison workers.

The U.S. Justice Department released a report last year that said most sexual misconduct in prisons is by female workers with male inmates, though that's based on inmate surveys.

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