The rehabilitative nature of incarceration depends to a great extent on the environment that an inmate experiences. If an incoming prisoner enters a world filled with corruption, drugs, and crime the potential for rehabilitation is nonexistent. Given the prevalence of corruption among correctional officers (COs), including ties to organized crime and street/prison gangs, reinstating the goal of rehabilitation in prisons and jails will require a dramatic sea change in how oversight activities are conducted. Official recognition of this problem was codified in the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which mandated additional training for correctional staff to eliminate sexual abuse and misconduct between inmates and staff. One of the standards proposed is the creation or expansion of internal investigations by specially trained personnel. This essay outlines how an undercover internal investigations unit would be recruited and trained, whose primary purpose is to investigate all forms of misconduct by COs, including gang affiliation, sexual abuse and misconduct, contraband smuggling, and unsanctioned physical violence.
Correctional officer (CO) misconduct can take many forms, from isolated incidents involving civil rights violations of prisoners, drug trafficking, gang activities, sexual assault, to murder for hire. In April 2009 a federal grand jury handed down indictments for 25 defendants alleged to have engaged in smuggling contraband into Maryland prisons, as part of a CO drug-ring allegedly run by the Black Guerrilla Family Gang (Smith, 2010). The contraband included drugs and cell phones, but also involved extortion schemes and the murder of a fellow CO who refused to participate. Many of the COs who were allegedly involved had a history of gang affiliation.
These incidents are not rare, but literally represent the 'tip of the iceberg'. In 2005 the Texas legislature investigated juvenile complaints of sexual misconduct against COs and other correctional facility staff, and during the five-year period from 2000 to 2005 over 750 complaints had been filed (National Prison Rape Elimination Commission [NPREC], 2009, pp. 88-89). Within the federal prison system there were 1,585 complaints of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct by inmates against COs and other correctional staff between 2001 and 2008, involving all but 1 of the 93 federal prisons (Evaluation and Inspection Division, 2009, p. 20). During this period the prevalence of criminal sexual misconduct increased by 104% and close to 50% of all complaints was against COs (Evaluation and Inspection Division, 2009, p. 23).
Inappropriate relations between COs and inmates pave the way for other criminal conduct. Close to 21% of all federal correctional staff who admitted sexual contact with an inmate also confessed to smuggling contraband and 38% of staff convicted of sexual abuse of an inmate were also convicted of other crimes (Evaluation and Inspection Division, 2009, p. 2). Purging the correctional systems of these 'bad apples' would therefore not only significantly lower the prevalence of misconduct and criminality by correctional staff, but also improve the safety of both prisoners and staff and thus increase the rehabilitative potential of incarceration (Evaluation and Inspection Division, 2009, p. 1).
Establishing an Internal Affairs Unit
With the passage of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) a legal mandate for a zero tolerance policy towards sexual misconduct in prisons and jails was established and the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission formulated standards for accomplishing this goal (NPREC, n.d.). Many states have begun to address this problem in part by the formation or renewed support for internal affairs (IA) investigative units with specialized, corrections-oriented training (The Moss Group, Inc., 2006).
Forming an IA unit within a prison or prison system would require leadership by someone with extensive, successful experience not only as an IA investigator, but also as a CO. Recruiting the rest of the team poses special problems if the unit is expected to function undercover. Candidate team members would have to be vetted extensively by a thorough background screening and in-depth psychological assessment prior to a face-to-face interview, in order to judge their genuine attitude towards staff misconduct and its impact on inmate welfare, as well as their ability function as an undercover investigator. Recruitment would have to occur during off-duty hours for working COs and the requisite specialized training would have to be hidden from prison administrators, staff, and inmates.
Former COs who left the profession because they became too disillusioned by CO corruption might represent a potential source of IA investigators. This approach has the added…