|A Correctional Officer’s Nightmare: Inmate Informants|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
Correctional Officers remain our last line of defense within the criminal justice system. They stand watch over our convicted felons and do a job nobody else wants to do or contemplate applying for because of the potential dangers and the environment they would be working in. working inside the penitentiary is not a glamorous job to say the least. In fact, it is sometimes one of the worst jobs one could think of taking but with the economy and the jobless rate climbing, this remains to be a premier choice for returning war veterans, college grads, those laid off and those looking to get into law enforcement.
Part of this job includes ethical and competent performance standards. There is no room for error and every decision can be fatal or flawed where someone either gets hurt or worse, killed. The stress inside there is extremely high and coping with society’s rejects is time consuming and frustrating. The job, however, requires and demands perfection and compliance with all laws, policies and procedures at all times whether on duty or off duty.
Errors in judgments or actions are often translated into misconduct. Misconduct usually results in disciplinary or at the very least, an investigative process that must be sound and fair to ensure both factual and accurate information is gleaned in the process. This investigative tool has been abused by the administration for years as they engage into a process called inmate informants. Unfortunately there are a minority of correctional or detention officers that are corrupt and abusive in their assigned role as peacekeeper inside our penitentiaries.
Located within most jails and prisons are intelligence gathering teams or criminal investigators [units] commonly referred to as internal affairs. It is their job to act on tips or information on crimes committed and gang activity within their scope of responsibility. Today they are engaged in a most flawed practice that uses inmate confidential informants (CI) to find out what is going on behind the razor wire and high walls.
Their protocol is sometimes questionable and their motive should be uncertain as they work closely with inmates to make their cases against staff or other prison employees. Allegations are often unfounded and biased but regardless of these flaws, they carry their weight in the investigation to destroy an officer’s reputation or morale. Confidential informants are rampant throughout the correctional environment. They thrive on rumors, innuendoes or other gossip to spill the beans of what is perceived to be a personal biased effort to degrade or humiliate correctional employees who stand to be punished or even terminated from such a source even if the case is weak or unsustainable in a court of law.
Confidential informant’s allegations are echoed throughout many correctional facilities decimating morale and the fairness of many disciplinary procedures. This information is mishandled by those who engage in this practice and is used to gain access to information that would otherwise be difficult to attain because of the code of silence that exists within most prison and jail settings.
There are times where the accused may never know their accusers. The manner confidential information is handled is more secret and discreet than the manner an officer’s individual record is revealed or evaluated as well as any statement made by a fellow officer. The reason investigators chose to use informants is based on the fact that officers who report their colleagues or co workers are often ostracized, intimidated and sometimes harmed by their fellow officers once it is made known they made a statement against a fellow officer. Although very seldom rising to this level, it is a most convenient reason for investigators to use CI willing to do the dirty work rather than pursuing the case through interviews of staff and coworkers.
Secondary reasons given for using informants is the fact that once a statement is made,[whether verbal or written] it becomes very difficult for the investigator to catch the officer in the act thus making it almost impossible to bring him or her up for charges of misconduct?
Hence the shortcut taken to use confidential informants was brought to the table and sanctioned by those in charge of these correctional facilities. The danger of investigator and convicted felon to “bond” can jeopardize many cases and distort the truth. Deals made under the table are hardly legitimate when the cost is the career and reputation of an officer who stands to lose everything they worked for during their entire career.
This entire practice is flawed and leads one to conclude that those suspected of committing crimes inside jails or prisons can and will be set up by these confidential informants that carry the weight of being reliable and truthful for the investigators in charge of the case. The manner many cases are handled are grounds for suspicion and doubt that these cases are made on subjective materials and observations from a confidential informant that has everything to gain for telling lies and offer flawed testimony to “burn” an officer doing his or her job.
The bottom line is the matter of guilt is rarely established by using confidential information or informants. What is most damaging is the fact that once you are brought up for allegations of misconduct, this will never be erased from your record and you are ruined for your entire career leaving many no choice but to leave and try to work again in another place away from the “heat” created by confidential informants who work for both incentives and pleasure while burning officers at the stake for the sake of “justice” inside the penitentiary or jail.
Administrative tools should not include the use of confidential informants. If the investigative process was conducted appropriately and according to the rules set forth in many organization, this would improve morale and adjust the quality of fact finding in those places where corrupt staff are a problem but are properly identified through a process that is objective rather than subjective in nature.
Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Car’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."
Other articles by ToersBijns:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT