Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Thin Gray Line

46 Georgia Correctional Officers Sentenced for Drug Smuggling:

One by one, dozens of Georgia correctional officers have gone from being guards to being the guarded.
The last of 46 one-time prison guards will be sentenced this week for using their uniforms and badges to smuggle what they believed to be cocaine and methamphetamine for the inmate Ghost Face gang. They are now prisoners themselves, much like the men and women they were once paid to watch.
The operation — much of it captured on video — is one of the biggest corruption scandals ever to hit Georgia’s prison system.
Once federal and prison agents started looking, “one institution would lead to another institution,” Erskine said. Federal authorities launched an elaborate sting operation in which an informant offered prison guards cash for moving what they believed to be drugs. Many took them up on it.
Only two of the officers avoided prison, getting probation instead. The rest have already received sentences ranging from 18 months to 9 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary. The last of the 46 officers is to be sentenced Thursday.
Prosecutors said there is no doubt the guards knew what they were getting into.
“It’s troubling that so many officers from state correctional institutions across Georgia were willing to sell their badges for personal payoffs from purported drug dealers,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said when the arrests were announced.
Horn said the officers “betrayed the institutions they were sworn to protect.”
They certainly did, but their motivations (i.e. mens rea) are dismissed rather blithely in the article, and by federal authorities.
Georgia’s correctional officers make between $27,936 and $41,296 a year. This year, they got a significant pay bump. But those supporting a family on a correction officers’ salary may still make so little money that they qualify or Medicaid or fall below the federal poverty level.
And while there was no single reason offered for what led the officers to agree to team up with a prison gang, money was at the root of the problem.
[However], authorities had little sympathy for those who became caught up in the arrests.
“It’s greed that put them into this. They knew they were breaking the law. Period,” said Clay Nix, who is head of the criminal division of the Georgia Department of Corrections’ internal affairs unit. “This woke everybody up to the problem we had.”
I'm not sure "greed" is an explanatory factor when we're talking about scores of people making (median) $35,000 a year who have families to feed, some of whom are on medicaid, and all of whom work 40 hours a week guarding, in some cases, the most dangerous convicts around. Unlike law enforcement officers, where potentially anyone you come in contact with could do you harm, in corrections everyone you come in contact with could do you harm. Shouldn't that warrant more than $35,000 a year?

Low pay doesn't excuse breaking the law (although the way this "sting" went down, issues of entrapment are certainly in play on appeal), but to dismiss the temptation to make a little extra scratch to help pay the rent or buy food as simple "greed" is shortsighted.

And incidentally, even though this particular operation was about enticing them to move drugs into the prisons, it's not just narcotics that inmates want.
So far this year, DOC has seized almost 5,000 cell phones from inmates. Just since July 1, corrections officials have found 750 wireless devices in prisons.
The criminal charges and shaming photographs of officers who helped inmates posted just inside prison entrances have done little to slow the problem.
It’s the money, officials say.
Then here's a simple solution: pay them more.

The black market in prison has everything...drugs, cell phones, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, you name it. If it can be brought in for black market purposes, it will be. And while it's mostly about money, the issue of coercion is never mentioned in the article.

Coercion is rather easy to apply in that world. Prison gangs have long tentacles in the community, and it doesn't take too many degrees of separation for an inmate to get the address and family information of these CO's and use it to blackmail them into contraband running. "That's a pretty wife and kids you got there, Officer Smith, it'd be a shame if something happened to them while you were here at work." Etc. That kind of shit goes on in prison every single day, which makes it rather surprising the reporter never explored said angle.

Regardless, it's been well documented in the penological literature over the years that systems who pay their correctional officers more have lower levels of corruption (e.g., and ironically, the federal system). Period. You want to crack down on corruption in corrections? Pay them more.

Sure you'll always have a few bad apples who will do these things, but you certainly won't have scores of officers being tempted by corruption if we pay them the worth of the work they are being asked to provide.

Lock 'em up and throw away the key comes with a pricetag. And frankly, I'd rather pay these officers more money, than spend it on running sting operations and ultimately incarcerating them, which is a helluva lot more expensive in the end.

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