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By Brian Parry
Published: 08/24/2015

Inmate leaning on cell Do not get compromised. Inmates have 24 hours a day to look for ways to compromise and use correctional employees. Once compromised the inmate owns the employee. If compromised the employee stands to lose their career, their reputation and most importantly their self- respect. And in the more serious cases the employee could get prosecuted and find themselves on the other side of the bars.

Recent events of compromised employees has put corrections in the media spotlight. The New York state escape, an escape from a North Carolina facility and the Maryland incident involving members of the Black Guerilla Family prison gang and employees have all contributed to an increase in the questioning of the professionalism of correctional staff across the country.

Despite the fact the vast majority of correctional staff do not get compromised these incidents have tainted the entire profession. Corrupt prison staff makes national news.

During my 30+ plus years with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation I investigated enough corruption cases to witness the devastation of careers, the erosion of staff morale and the effects on the safety and security of the institutions. During my tenure as an internal affairs investigator and the Assistant Director, CDCR had over 65,000 employees. As an investigator I worked over a hundred cases and as the Assistant Director oversaw some 1200 investigation a year. While many employees were cleared of any misconduct we had our fair share of those who were guilty.

After each of these investigations we analyzed how employees got compromised. We later incorporated what we learned into training programs for all staff.

One of the universal truths we learned was the inmate who compromised the employee always gave up the staff member when pressed. Always. The inmates usually have very little to lose and are always looking for their creature comforts while incarcerated. They learn to use the employee for everything they can get and when discovered and questioned identify the staff member.

Additionally, we learned most employees in retrospect wished they never let themselves get compromised and regretted losing their careers. Many voiced remorse for putting their colleagues’ safety in jeopardy and after the investigation and consequent personnel action several explained they were so deep over their heads and realized they were just being used. Many expected to get caught. Many hoped they would get caught to end the anguish.

During those investigations we learned that sex, drugs, contraband and greed were the most common reason employees got compromised.

The Set Up

Joyce Mitchell, the former New York Department of Corrections’ employee recently plead guilty to several charges involving the escape of two inmates. In her widely reported confession she admits to being lured in or set up by the inmates. In her confession she explained how she became close to the inmates. The relationship started with numerous compliments, small favors and the exchange of gifts. It later led to sexual contact, a plot to kill her husband and the involvement in the escape plan. She faces up to seven years in prison. Her sentencing is set for September.

During the course of an investigation it was not unusual for inmates to explain the techniques they used to identify vulnerable employees and set them up to be compromised. In fact one sophisticated California prison gang actually trained new recruits in the art of compromising staff.

Some of those techniques used by inmates sound very similar to the techniques used in the Joyce Mitchell case.

The inmates watch and study an employee’s behavior. They looked to identify characteristics they perceived to be weaknesses or vulnerabilities such as fear, abuse of alcohol or problems with family which could be exploited. The inmates also watched how the employee interacted with other inmates and other staff, particularly supervisors. The inmate will try to appeal to the employee’s emotions. Once they identify a personal problem the set up begins and the inmate attempts to exploit the problem.

For instance if they sensed fear in an employee the inmate would offer protection in exchange for small favors. In time the small favors become more serious. The inmate would begin to test the limits of the employee.

Likewise, the inmate would try to identify an employee’s vices or bad habits. For example, if the inmate frequently detected an odor of alcohol on an employee they would start with simple questions like, “What kind of booze do you like”? If the employee responded “vodka”, then vodka would become the inmate’s favorite alcohol. They look to connect with the employee by articulating some kind of common interest. The discussion would eventually come around to “you’re just like me”. All along the inmate is attempting to set the hook and compromise the employee.

Over time the inmate attempts to solicit personal information about the employee’s spouse or children. The inmate will try to appeal to the employee’s emotions. Once they identify a personal problem the set up begins and the inmate attempts to exploit the problem. The inmate will look for problems in the employee’s personal life by asking questions about family and children. They try to sound sincere. The inmate might say “You look down today, everything ok at home”? Or they may ask” how is your son feeling today”? Any conversation to gain personal information is valuable to the set up.

Furthermore, inmates look for female employees who appear lonely or physically abused. They look for bruise marks on female employee’s arms and face which might indicate a problem with a spouse or boyfriend. Inmates have told us they look for female staff who try to cover bruise marks with makeup. Inmates look close. Inmates have told us they try to get the female employee’s attention by commenting on how attractive they look. They will use compliments and respectful language to gain the employee’s trust.

Once the personal information is gathered and the inmate thinks the employee is comfortable the next step is asking for small favors that are more than likely minor in nature but nevertheless rule infractions. They may ask the employee to pass a note, facilitate a cell change or mail out a letter for them.

If the staff member complies, the requests become more frequent and more serious. Inmates have told us once they have the employee compromised through doing small favors they begin to tighten the screws. The requests might include introduction of drugs, alcohol or tobacco. They may, if the circumstances are available, ask for sexual favors. Should the employee refuse the inmate threatens to expose them. In the New York case it started with small favors and ended up with aiding an escape. The inmates will use the employee until they either get caught or the employee begins to refuse. However, they always give up the employee when caught.

The inmates look for problems between the staff and supervisors in order to capitalize on the dissension. They will side with the employee. The inmate will pit staff against staff to their advantage. They look for disgruntled employees and attempt to exploit.

The dangers of working in a correctional setting are many. However, being compromised can be avoided through realistic training, effective supervision and professionalism. Through training all employees should be able to recognize when an inmate is attempting to set them up. Employees need to advise superiors when they detect an inmate is trying to compromise them and appropriate action should be taken against the inmate.

Lastly, nothing is more important than a correctional employee treating inmates fairly but firmly and adhering to operational rules and regulations. Letting inmates slip by is a red flag to potential problems in the future. After all, the inmates are watching.

Brian Parry spent over 30 years working for the California Department of Corrections. Prior to retiring as the Assitant Director of the Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit, Brian was a Parole Agent, Special Agent and Chief of Investigations. From 2008 to 2014 Parry worked for the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center and Safe Streets Gang Unit. He implemented and managed a joint intelligence program between the FBI and the California Department of Corrections. Throughout his career he has received 32 commendations from law enforcement agencies.

Parry has taught across the country about gangs, intelligence and officer safety topics. Since his retirement he has worked as an expert witness and consultant for several agencies on gang issues.

He has authored several articles on gang related topics for Corrections Today, California Correctional News, State of Corrections and several intelligence publications. In 2000 he won the Lester J. Haye Award for published articles in the California Correctional News.


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