I often talk about the demise of the American culture. Our society is breaking down, and morals and ethics are taking a back seat. We see it on the television and we hear it in pop music. Political correctness has allowed deviance to permeate our culture. What is acceptable today in the form of language, dress, and behavior was shunned a generation ago.
The recent scandal in the Baltimore main jail reinforces my theory that gangs are huge contributors to this cultural demise. Gangs have taken up where families, communities, and churches have let go. Gangs have a strong hold on our youth and support everything wrong in our culture: violence, drugs, promiscuous sexual behavior, and crime. Gangs are fulfilling needs that families and communities used to fill. Gangs provide members a sense of belonging, unconditional love and support, food, clothing, status, and often the bare essentials in life. Gang members are seen as role models and heroes and have infiltrated every aspect of American society, even our justice system.
Recently in the Baltimore correctional system, the leader of the Black Guerrilla Family was able to manipulate staff and run his gang operation from behind the walls. Not only was he was running his criminal enterprise (selling drugs, smuggling in cell phones, and racketeering), but he was able to manipulate staff and impregnate four female officers. Two of the Officers had his name tattooed on them. So how do staff members "fall" for this? Why are we so easily manipulated to fall for the gangs' con game? What can we, as corrections professionals, do to stop this corruption?
Throughout my career, I have seen inmates manipulate staff and "get their jobs." I've seen staff with tremendous potential fall victim to an inmate's con game. Inmates have a process they use to manipulate staff to get them to do what they want them to do. It's similar everywhere. It has been referred to as "Downing A Duck" (Allen, B and Bosta, D. 1981. Games Criminals Play and How you can Profit by Knowing Them. Rae John Publishing). The "duck" refers to staff that are easily manipulated or fooled.
It goes something like this: first, they groom the staff member. They say things like "You're the only one who has made a difference in my life", or "I can tell you are a better officer than all the others" or "You should have heard what Officer Smith said about you." These kind words make staff feel good about themselves and what they are doing, and provide them with a sense of purpose.
The second step is for the inmate to get the staff member to lower their guard. They get them to share information that they shouldn’t. Some seemingly benign detail about their life can become a reason for extortion. For example, a staff member shares with an inmate that he or she is having a relationship with another staff member. The inmate takes that ball and runs with it. He black mails the staff member into first doing something simple: looking the other way when misconduct occurs, mailing a letter, permitting a bunk move, or allowing the inmate to get a pass he shouldn't have.
Those simple requests the staff member complies with are the hook. Once hooked the inmate uses these as bargaining chips to get the officer to do bigger and better things: bring in cell phones, drugs, or get involved in a sexual relationship. He gets the staff member to over-identify with the inmates and under-identify with his professional peers. Sometimes, by virtue of a staff member's job, they can over-identify with the inmate population. They begin to see the inmates as peers, not people under their care, custody, and control. You see this in non-security positions as well. For example, a maintenance staff member who has been working with an inmate welder for months begins to see him more as a co-worker and less as a convict. This opens the door the "duck to be downed."
Inmates watch every move we make. They see our strengths but they also see our weaknesses. They prey on those weak points. They learn our personalities and they squeeze us when the can. As corrections professions, we need to take steps to stop the downing of ducks and to make sure our co-workers are always practicing integrity. First, report everything. I'd rather have staff over-report than under-report. If it quacks, it’s probably a duck. If you notice a staff member spending extra time with a particular inmate, report it. Remember, all inmates don't lie all the time. If they tell you something, you have a duty to follow up and look into the issue.
Second, the administration of the facility must be visible. You can't run a prison from behind a desk. Walk and talk daily, visit all shifts, know your staff and know your inmates. When you do discover wrong doing, take swift action when holding people accountable. If administrators let things slide, that will be come the culture at your facility.
Be sure to pre-screen employees as best you can. Screen for gang affiliation, self-esteem, and reliability. Provide clear and direct pre-service training. Teach the staff to be able to identify the games criminals play. Advocate for staff cohesiveness. We want to prevent staff from over-identifying with the inmates and make sure they see their peers as important.
Be clear in what your expectations are in both the inmate population and your corrections professionals. Although we will never totally get rid of staff misconduct, this blatant and criminal behavior displayed by those working in the Baltimore Prison system is unacceptable. It flies in the face of professionalism and its puts the publics' safety at risk. Shame on those 25 people for disgracing our profession.
I hope they look good in stripes.
Allen, B and Bosta, D. 1981. Games Criminals Play and How you can Profit by Knowing Them. Rae John Publishing
CorrectionsNews 5/13/13. "Prison Gang allegedly Targeted Female Officers with Insecurities". Published on correctionsone.com.
Gray, Madison. April 24, 2013. "Racketeering, Smuggling, Sex with Guards: Indicted in Massive Baltimore Prison Scandal." Time.com.