|Treating an infection within|
|By Barry Evert, Sergeant|
In all correctional settings there are inmates, or groups of inmates who strive to take control over their environment. As most of us are aware, the battle between groups to take control over their “yard space” or drug trading rights can lead to violent, unpredictable incidents.
Those officers who have to respond to and clean up the scene, and who are assaulted or otherwise injured trying to restore the peace, are usually the victims of these incidents. Over the years much has been tried to alleviate the influence of these disruptive groups, but the perfect solution still eludes us as a whole.
So what is the most efficient way to track and stop these groups? Many will argue that specialized gang units are the only way to combat the problem, but they too are ineffective without the everyday housing unit officers.
The most effective way to combat these groups is by actively collecting information from housing unit officers on a frequent basis. Most good housing unit officers know their unit well, and have the opportunity to watch inmates in their “home” environment. No amount of surveillance can replace a housing officer’s good eye for inmate behavior. When the gang task force officers talk to the housing unit officers, they are often amazed by the information they get, but frustrated that the officer did not come to them with it sooner.
If you are part of these units, or are in charge of one, encourage your officers to make regular visits to the housing units. Housing unit officers are overwhelmed by the amount of work and time it takes to run an effective unit. Many of them have been trained to treat the symptoms of disruptive groups; they spend their days cleaning up after fights and incidents, so most may not feel they have the time to treat the disease by helping to break up disruptive groups.
A simple ten-minute conversation with a task force officer can be an effective way to gather group intelligence. Ask the housing unit officer which inmates seem to hang out together, or who’s paying off debt with commissary or canteen items. Ask about those getting a lot of mail from questionable return addresses. These questions will help you piece together the structure of a disruptive group, without spending hours of time conducting surveillance that often proves fruitless.
Gang task force units are only as effective as the information they have, and the housing unit officers are integral to this.
If you are a housing unit officer, take the time to make that five-minute phone call to the task force unit when you notice a behavior change or suspect something is going on. Take quick notes during the day as you watch the yard, or when inmates are exercising; even a short note about inmate “X” who has found new friends. This information is invaluable to task force officers, but can take months to obtain through confidential sources or reading the mail.
For much too long we have been too overwhelmed by our daily tasks to treat this infection in our country’s prisons, with a little extra effort though, you can actually make a difference in this battle.
Sgt. Barry Evert began his corrections career in 1999, and is now a Correctional Sergeant at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. He has been with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for eight years. His specialty lies in teaching, tactical emergency response, riot tactics and officer safety improvement.
He is a firm believer that a good home life breeds a good officer, and is currently writing a book, which supports that idea and details the essential skills and techniques new COs should learn in the first two years of their job.
Other articles by Evert:
Check it at the gate, avoid the burnout 6/13/07
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT