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Correctional facilities face misconduct and corruption as many other facets in the criminal justice system. If there is, one sexual abuse of inmates, there will be other forms of misconduct


  • Correctional facilities face misconduct and corruption as many other facets in the criminal justice system. If there is, one sexual abuse of inmates, there will be other forms of misconduct like smuggling or physical abuse
  • "Years ago, I exposed horrors in Mississippi Prisons. Here's why I'm back at it"

Using this information, discuss how the lack of resources and operational decisions create a dangerous environment that contributes to correctional officer misconduct and corruption. Identify how correctional organizations can reduce unethical conduct by correctional personnel.  

McCarthy (1991, 1995) and Souryal (2009) discuss the major types of corruption by correctional officers and other officials in institutional corrections. Under misuse of authority, McCarthy (1991) details the following:

• Accepting gratuities for special consideration during legitimate activities

• Accepting gratuities for protection of illicit activities • Mistreatment/harassment or extortion of inmates • Mismanagement (e.g., prison industries) • Miscellaneous abuses

Souryal (2009: 28–29) describes acts of misfeasance (illegitimate acts done for personal gain), acts of malfeasance (acts that violate authority), and acts of nonfeasance (acts of omission such as ignoring rule violations).

Bomse (2001) identifies different types of prisoner abuse as follows:

• Malicious or purposeful abuse. This is the type of abuse inflicted by individual officers intentionally, including excessive use of force, rape and sexual harassment, theft and destruction of personal property, false disciplinary charges, intentional denial of medical care, failure to protect, racial abuse and harassment, and excessive and humiliating strip searches.

• Negligent abuse. This type of abuse is also inflicted by individual officers, but not intentionally, and includes negligent denial of medical care, failure to protect, lack of responsiveness, and negligent loss of property or mail.

• Systemic or budgetary abuse. This type of abuse is systemwide and refers to policies, including overcrowding, inadequate medical care (systematic budget cutting), failure to protect, elimination of visits or other programs, co-payments and surcharges, and use of isolation units.

Although there is no research that supports this premise, a reading of a wide range of news reports, both current and historical, of corruption in corrections indicates that corruption tends to occur in patterns. That is, if there is sexual misconduct,

there is also smuggling. If there is physical abuse of inmates, there are also other forms of mistreatment. It also appears that corruption tends to permeate levels of supervisors who protect the corrupt activities. Cover-ups at the highest levels also occur, arguably not because the highest level administrators are involved directly, but more so because of long-term friendships between those involved and those who can protect them and/or a desire to keep the illegal activities from being exposed to the public. Patterns of corruption also seem to occur when there is a deficit of resources, including understaffing, deferred maintenance leading to decrepit facilities, and a seeming lack of care and attention from the top management. In a way, one might describe it as the “broken windows” theory of corrections in that when policies and procedures are ignored, when buildings fall into disrepair, when relationships between inmates and correctional officers drift into unprofessional familiarity or animosity, then corruption/crime seems to be present as well.

Sexual abuse of inmates, brutality, bribery at the highest levels, and drug smuggling all are reported with depressing regularity. Some scandals live in infamy, such as the gladiator fights that were orchestrated by correctional officers in Corcoran prison in California where correctional officers coerced inmates to fight in the prison yard and then used shotguns from the towers to stop them. Despite the litigation and criminal prosecutions that followed from the California scandal, correctional officer– coerced “gladiator fights” have been alleged more recently in the Denver jail, in juvenile detention facilities in Texas, and other locations. Other scandals, such as smuggling rings where correctional officers bring in cellphones, drugs, and other contraband for inmates, are so similar when they appear in various states, that it seems only the names of the individuals and prison gangs involved are different. Officers are often tempted by the large sums of money or coerced by inmates who tell the officers they know where they live or where their kids go to school.

In the News

Correctional Crimes

In 2016, an FBI undercover investigation called Operation Ghost Guard, resulted in the arrests of 130 current and former Georgia prison guards, civilian staff, and inmates. The correctional officers thought they were being paid thousands of dollars to protect drug smuggling operations for a high-level trafficker, using their status as correctional officers to protect them from a vehicle search if they were stopped by police. The investigation also uncovered contraband smuggling and criminal activity in the prisons. Officials began the investigation after discovering a telephone scam—people received phone calls saying they had missed jury duty and they could either pay a fine or be arrested—traced to Georgia prison inmates using cellphones. When agents investigated how the phones got into the prison, they identified guards in nine different prisons. When these corrupt guards were given an opportunity to protect a purported drug trafficker, they agreed to wear their uniforms to transport the drugs. Ironically, some of the correctional officers arrested were on the Department of Corrections’ COBRA tactical team which investigates drug trafficking inside the prison.

Source: Brumback, 2016.

In the sections that follow, we focus on a few states (California, Florida, and New York). This is not to portray these states as worse than others, or indicate that there is no corruption in states that aren’t represented here. Indeed, it is noteworthy how similar scandals are across the country: drug and cellphone smuggling rings, “beat-up” squads, and sexual exploitation seem to occur with remarkable similarity across many states.

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