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Gathering intelligence inside prisons
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 06/01/2015

Information Over my span of 25 valuable years, I learned several things when investigating a violent incident and what dynamics take place before and after such a disturbance. Much discussed on some agencies and barely conferred or spoken of by others, there lies a wealth of viable information regarding gangs, drugs, weapons and other dynamics that impact the overall security of the facility.

Some agencies have developed special security units for such purposes and in the process of doing so, they have alienated a valuable source of intelligence gathering capabilities by omitting the role of the correctional officer in the task of gathering information within the prison population. This source is a human resource called the correctional officer who works the line and does shift work as well as various posts throughout the facility.

In my time, these special units relied on most information coming from the line staff who had their own sources on the yards and managed inmate behaviors according to the manner these sources provided viable and accurate information. This was commonly known as the “snitch system” and often condemned by the administration who ironically, use a very similar system but tag it to be different than the informant banks on the yards.

As a combination of good searches, questioning and a little bit of luck brings vital information by either coincidence or design, karma has a way of creating good police work by correctional officers to reveal security breaches, drug buys or identifying mules, sanctioned hit lists and many other vital information that keeps the place safe and secure if a proactive plan can be initiate to offset the prisoner’s plan for disruption, introduction or in many cases, an assault or other criminal activity.

Needless to say, these channels are required to be maintained open and active at all times to gather sufficient data to ensure a pulse on the yard of concern. Such channels exist for the reasons of obtaining and deciphering information that may lead to somewhere or nowhere depending on the reliability of the source.

Today, this channel of communication has been severely impaired as the information gathering duties have been taken away from the line officer and exclusively assigned to special security units or security threat group officers investigating gangs and other security concerns.

In addition, the focus today appears to be on radicalization of prisoners converting to terrorism and organized crime outlets within prison as they are all connected to the community by someone incarcerated calling the shots or providing the resources to make things happen.

The network of cops related to radicalization of prisoners is intensely growing as the function of gathering information on drugs, weapons and contraband has been rapidly declining, creating unsettling essential dynamics becoming unidentified and resulting in unexpected surprises of disturbances, assaults and mass drug introductions or cell phones.

Since the queries are now directed to radicalization and terrorist intelligence, this internal priority is now secondary [which was once primary intelligence] is suffering badly and needs to be restored.

To make a long story short, there needs to be an active plan to re-instate the line officer in the role of gathering intelligence on institutional needs as well as operational concerns in the area of gang activity, drug control, and violence and escape potential or planning.

Today, correctional officer rank and file has been breached by outsiders hired to work for the cartel or other disruptive groups as well as street gangs working for the drug connections. Because of this flaw, the reinstatement of Intel gathering must be done discreetly and with selected personnel trained and experienced to gather these needs.

Correctional personnel can be valuable in gathering intelligence and sharing that intelligence with other criminal justice and intelligence agencies but they can be equally effective to work and gain insights on yard dynamics, shot callers and the drug trade. They could serve as worthy and reliable sources to:
  • Discover trafficking techniques
  • The names and role of prisoners involved in the criminal activity
  • Reveal identifying characteristics according to gang, race, ethnicity, associations etc.
  • Observation of visitors and associations inside the visiting room as well as sharing rides
  • Watching video monitors closely to detect smuggling or transfer of codes or papers
  • Listen to conversations and recordings of suspected individuals involved.
To be successful against institutional security breaches and detect potential acts of violence or disturbances e.g. riots, work stoppage etc. correctional agencies must learn to work more closely with everyone assigned who may contribute to the overall product of gathering intelligence on the various yards. Intelligence has no boundaries, no limits and no territorial spats thus it is important we use and have available, all the human resources and technology we have at our disposal on every shift we work.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has 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. Carl’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."

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