In a recent article, I discussed the dangers of utilizing security threat group leaders to help control the STG population. One of the questions that resulted from that article was "How DO we control them?" I'm going to discuss the fundamental things that we can do to manage this volatile segment of every institutional population.
Management starts with policy. I’m certain each and every agency and department out there has some kind of policy, or SOP, for dealing with security threat groups in the facility. That policy should explain how the agency defines a security threat group. Does an STG have to be a street gang or a prison gang? Does there have to be a criminal element if it's not?
Remember, we tie our own hands if we define an STG strictly as a street gang. Obviously, street gangs and prison gangs make up the bulk of our STG issues. What about that group of three or four inmates that aren’t affiliated with a gang, but sure have a pretty good business going selling tobacco, drugs or whatever other contraband they can get their hands on? Are they any less a threat to the security of your facility than Crips or Surenos?
An accurate identification is paramount in managing the STG population. Each agency has its own way of identifying inmates as STG members. Regardless of the method your agency uses, if you are responsible for identification, you owe it to yourself and your coworkers to make as accurate an identification as possible.
If the inmate makes an admission of belonging to this group or that, verify it. Is there ink to back it up? Does he associate with that group on the yard? What does outside law enforcement have to say?
If you get the information from a confidential informant, vet the information as much as possible. It's better to hold off on an identification and gather more information than hang a jacket on an inmate and be wrong.
Once a solid identification has been made, gather information. I know of some in the STG business that think there is such a thing as "too much" information. I am not one of those people.
When it comes to properly managing this portion of our population, the more information we have the better. We know that they are heavily involved in contraband. We know they are heavily involved in strong-arming, and running stores inside our facilities.
It only makes sense that we do everything we can to interrupt their trade. That is difficult to do without information. Following the gathering of information, we must analyze it. Information is simply that until it has been analyzed. We must take the information we've gathered, and run it by our "experts."
On that same note, it is important for intelligence staff to cultivate good working relationships with others in their institution. We cannot be everywhere at once. We have to rely on other officers, nurses and even food service staff to pass information onto us. They aren’t likely to do that if we fail to build rapport with our coworkers.
Just as important as developing that rapport is cementing the relationship by making sure your coworkers know that you appreciate their efforts. Offer feedback when they bring you something.
Finally, we must enforce our agencies rules and policies where STGs are concerned. Here in Iowa, we have a "Zero Tolerance" policy concerning STG activity. What that means is that if you are found to be in possession of STG documents or photos, you are disciplined. If you participate in an STG related assault, you are disciplined. If you draw STG symbols on your cell wall, whether you know what they mean or not or whether you are an identified member or not, you are disciplined.
Security threat groups wield a great deal of power in our institutions and facilities. Their members tend to use intimidation and fear as means of controlling not only their members, but staff as well. One of the best ways to break that power is to hold the members, from the leaders down to the newest, accountable for their actions.
Every staff member plays a role. If you're a nurse and you come across a new tattoo, write the report. If you're a cell house officer and you notice STG members running certain ranges or gathering in certain areas, pass that information on to your supervisor and STG staff. Enforce a zero tolerance policy. Do not allow even the most minor activity slide.
I'm not saying that the things I discussed in this article are all we can do. It is my opinion though that they are the minimum we can do to control the STG population. Know your agency's policy. Enforce your institution’s rules. Identify STG members accurately, and gather and disseminate information on them.
If we do these things, we begin to cut into the power that STGs hold over our institutions, and we make that population a little easier to manage.
About the author
Christopher L. Jones is a Correctional Officer and Security Threat Group Intelligence Officer with the Iowa Department of Corrections, working at the maximum security Iowa State Penitentiary, the oldest operational penitentiary west of the Mississippi. He has been with the department for just short of 8 years and has worked with all levels of custody within the IDOC, including 5 years in the Clinical Care Unit, a 200 plus bed unit special needs unit located on the ISP campus. In addition to his work at ISP, Chris also teaches Security Threat Groups for the IDOC at their Pre-Service Academy.