THE SORDID HISTORY OF ‘UNDUE FAMILIARITY’
By ART CHANCE
Undue Familiarity: This is a Department of Corrections term for any relationship between DOC staff and an inmate that might impugn the ethics and loyalties of the staff member.
It is most commonly used in reference to sexual relationships between Corrections staff and inmates or probationers, but there have been incidents involving financial and other relationships as well.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the problems became such that they could no longer be ignored or swept under the rug.
In the Gov. Steve Cowper Administration we dealt with those that came to our attention but we didn’t do anything to really go after the problem.
In the Walter J. Hickel Administration, we went after the problem first by changing the policy so that any personal relationship with an inmate was violative.
I spent the next several years in constant disciplinary meetings and grievance arbitrations over charges of undue familiarity with inmates; we won most of them, but the ones we lost were because of management complicity.
As a general matter, if you confronted a male correctional officer with a reasonably substantiated charge that he’d been “unduly familiar” with a female inmate, he’d just sign the resignation that we proffered. I never had a female correctional officer accept the offer to resign; if they’d decided that the inmate was their man, they’d go to the wall over it.
All of the undue familiarity cases I ever lost involved females, and all of them involved complicit management. In a couple of instances the manager was involved with the female officer himself and was compromised in testifying against her.
One that really sticks in my craw even after 20 years is the female correctional officer who took her inmate boy toy to the Rocket Park (Valley of the Moon Park) for a tryst after he’d been released to the halfway house, and then confessed all to a Corrections supervisor.
When I took it to arbitration, the staff and the manager took the stand for the union to first testify that this behavior was something everyone did, and also to attest to what a good officer she was. The offending officer went back to work and last I heard was living with the manager who testified on her behalf.
Another one that really sticks in my craw is a probation officer who took home an inmate who’d been released to probation. When the matter came to me, Corrections management was adamant that they’d given her a direct order that the probationer must leave her home or she would be dismissed.
When I got the manager in front of an arbitrator, the direct order became a wine and candlelight philosophical discussion of the morality of having sex with inmates. For all I know, the manager was entangled romantically with the correctional officer, who remained employed until she completed her stately progress to retirement.
Enter Satch Carlson, columnist for the Anchorage Daily News and English teacher at Bartlett High School in the late 1980s; Carlson drove a late ‘70s Lotus Esprit and had a habit of having “undue familiarity” with 17-year-old girls. The law named after him moved the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18, if the adult is in a position of authority.
Before it was a crime, “undue familiarity” was a matter of people who were getting something that others weren’t. If you were getting it, you got ratted out by someone who wasn’t.
Once it became a crime, if you ratted them out, you were a snitch; that meant the whole criminal code of conduct came into play.
We didn’t make a lot of undue familiarity cases after the Satch Carlson law was passed; nobody would give anybody up.
I don’t have a clue whether I could have won a case against former correctional officer Mike Dingman, and (possibly former) columnist for the Alaska Dispatch News. Dingman was accused of undue familiarity, and he promptly resigned.
I have no confidence in Corrections management and haven’t in 20 years. The reality is that “undue familiarity” is a part of the Corrections culture. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Hiland Mountain Correctional Center was more of a State-run brothel than a State correctional institution.
Another reality is that most of the women in Alaska’s prisons are veterans of the drug and sex trade and are really, really good at getting over on weak-minded men who spend too much time locked up with them.
I only had superficial contact with Dingman back in the day and found him to be supercilious; I’m not impressed by student presidents of backwater universities. That said, the charges against him have not been adjudicated. Corrections made a report and apparently there was no response or adjudication.
At most, Dingman losing his certification is a default judgment; that says a lot, but it doesn’t say everything. Correctional officers do walk the toughest beat in Alaska, and sometimes they do things of which they shouldn’t be proud.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska. He is the author of the book, Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance, available at Amazon. Recent commentary includes: Union money, lobbying and ‘education.’