Inmate informants: Don't be misled by a savvy inmate 'snitch'

Intelligence gathering and confidential informants are essential to the operation of a prison but things aren’t always what they seem at first glance.


Every prison should have a system of intelligence gathering involving the use of inmate informants, or “snitches” as they are more commonly called. An effective intelligence-gathering program should always be administered by an independent cadre of staff, separate from the operation of the cellblocks.

However, in reality many of the officers who work on the cellblocks and other staff throughout the prison have their own personal “snitches,” providing them with a variety of information about any number of activities going on in the prison.

In a prison, “confidential information” can be viewed as power and manipulative inmates know this all too well. These seasoned inmate “snitches” will provide information to staff on illegal activities such as gambling, drugs, pending fights, etc., in exchange for preferential treatment from the staff member.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The staff member who subscribes to the “information is power” philosophy thrives on being the only one who has this information and they continue to reward the informant with any number of favors which may include a change of cell location, a cellmate of their choice, more out of cell time, less frequent cell searches, etc. If you recall, the two inmates who recently escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY were both “model inmates” living on the honor block. 

An inmate doing a lengthy sentence will take years to fabricate his “good” reputation with staff and many of them do so by divulging confidential information. 

Often times, these favored inmates who pose as “snitches” are the ones who are involved in the most corrupt and serious incidents of misconduct in the facility all the while being protected and overlooked by the officer to whom they are providing the information.

Administrators must ensure all prison staffers subscribe to the philosophy that all “confidential informants” or “snitches” must be reported to the central intelligence gathering office; thereby eliminating the manipulation and preferential treatment afforded to these ill-intended inmates.

Be quick to listen and slow to reward.  

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