02:39 - Source: CNN
Some inmates and prison guards do get intimate

Story highlights

Hundreds of relationships between guards and inmates are documented each year

"People find love in the strangest places," said the attorney of a guard who slept with killer

Expert: Some people are drawn to the danger associated with convicts, others are lonely

CNN  — 

The charges against a prison tailor accused of helping two convicted murders escape from a maximum security facility in upstate New York have cast a spotlight on relationships between inmates and correctional staff.

The exact nature of Joyce Mitchell’s ties to Richard Matt and David Sweat, the two murderers who are still on the lam, remains murky.

A source with detailed knowledge of the investigation told CNN that Mitchell was having a sexual relationship with Matt. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding him and Sweat.

Hundreds of consensual sexual relationships between guards and inmates are documented each year in U.S. prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

More than half of all substantiated incidents of staff sexual misconduct in U.S. prisons and jails were committed by female members of staff, according to a study by the bureau released last year.

Prison authorities face the challenge of monitoring a complex web of interactions.

“I understand prisons run on a delicate balance, and having a good relationship between guards and the inmates, guards and the employees, employees and inmates is important,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said over the weekend.

“But there’s a line. And when the line is stepped over, then action has to be taken.”

Some of the high-profile cases have drawn national attention.

‘People find love in the strangest places’

Nancy Gonzalez, a night guard at a federal prison in Brooklyn, was sentenced last year to a year in prison for having an unlawful relationship with Ronell Wilson, a convicted cop killer on death row.

“People find love in the strangest places,” her attorney, Anthony Ricco, said during the case. “And people get together in the most difficult circumstances. We live in a society where these events happen. These types of cases are unusual, but they’re not uncommon.”

Gonzalez gave birth to Wilson’s child in 2013.

Convict allegedly made Mitchell feel ‘special’

In the upstate New York case, Mitchell’s involvement with Matt and Sweat is still being investigated.

She told investigators that she had planned to drive off into the night with the two men after they broke out of the prison. But she got cold feet, decided not to pick them up and later began cooperating with police, according to Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie.

The manipulation of Mitchell, he said, may go as far back as 2013, when the trio met.

The source with detailed knowledge of the investigation didn’t say Monday how long Mitchell’s alleged sexual relationship with Matt had lasted.

She’d also been investigated in the past for an inappropriate relationship with Sweat that led corrections officials to move him out of the tailor shop and keep them separated, according to Wylie.

Family disputes allegations

Mitchell, who is accused of supplying the murderers with the tools to cut through prison walls, pleaded not guilty Friday night to a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation.

Family members have disputed the allegations that she helped the two murderers and planned to run off with them.

Her husband and prison co-worker, Lyle Mitchell, is also under investigation, but has not been arrested or charged, authorities said. He worked in the maintenance department at the tailoring block where his wife was employed, Wylie said.

“She did indicate one of the reasons why she didn’t show up was because she did love her husband and she didn’t want to do this to him,” Wylie said Saturday.

The source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Monday that Matt and Sweat had a plan to kill Lyle Mitchell. But it’s unclear why, when they intended to do it and how much Joyce Mitchell actually knew about that plan.

The murderer and the warden’s wife

One woman who did disappear with a convicted murderer was Bobbi Parker, the wife of a prison warden in Oklahoma.

She and the inmate, Randolph Dial, went missing in 1994.

More than a decade later, authorities found them living together in Texas.

Parker said Dial had drugged and kidnapped her, but prosecutors said the two had fallen in love.

She was found guilty of assisting his escape and served half of a one-year sentence.

‘The ultimate in safety’

Experts say people, particularly women, can be drawn to criminals imprisoned for heinous acts for various reasons.

“There’s a term, hybristophilia, which indicates that being around somebody that’s very dangerous can be sexually arousing,” said Joy Krause, who made a film about prison relationships, “Serial Killer Groupies: A Love Story.”

“Other people are just very lonely,” she told CNN. “Some women like to have a long distance pen pal relationship. There are many, many reasons.”

The challenges that prison presents to physical intimacy serve as an attraction for some women.

“They get to be in love with them, pen pals with them, they can even marry them in prison but they don’t have to have physical contact or sex with them,” said criminologist Casey Jordan.

Lengthy prison sentences also – usually – mean the inmate isn’t going to disappear off anywhere.

“It’s the ultimate in safety,” Jordan said.

CNN’s Randi Kaye contributed to this report.