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Management of Criminal Activities from Prisons in the US

Info: 10164 words (41 pages) Dissertation
Published: 1st Mar 2022

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Tagged: Criminology


This research study focuses on prison crimes in the United States. In order to evaluate these crimes, newspaper reports and press release of court cases will be utilized to understand the nature of these crimes through the perspective of Routine Activity Theory. This theory evaluates a crime triangle predicting the need for three requirements for crime to be present including (1) a motivated offender, (2) a suitable target for crime and (3) the absence of capable guardian. In relation to the latter, it is found out, that since prison guards are largely complicit in many of these crimes, an essential element of surveillance and guardianship is broken down. Many of the crimes involve smuggling contraband goods into prisons. Such goods are considered, attractive targets, since there are natural shortages of such goods in prisons, and hence there is a high demand. In addition, this exploratory study finds that smuggled cell phones are used to commit further crimes.


    1. Prison Population in the United States
    2. Crimes Committed in U.S. Prisons
      1. Crimes that Inmates Commit in U.S. prisons
      2. Crimes Committed by Guards and Inmates
      3. Crimes committed by Guards
    1. Methods of Data Collection
    2. Method of Data Analysis
    3. Discussion of Limitations
    1. Routine Activity Theory and Crime in U.S. Prisons
      1. The Motivated Offender
      2. A Suitable Target for Crime
      3. The Absence of Capable Guardian or Surveillance
    2. Systematic Criminality in U.S. Prisons

1. Introduction

This research will consider the problem of crimes committed inside of prisons in collaboration between prison officers and inmates, the factors that contribute to those crimes and the kind of crimes that are committed. One particular problem that has been identified within this study is the high level of corruption amongst correctional officers. For example, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia argued that “staggering corruption [exists] within Georgia Department of Corrections institutions” (Brown and Ryan, 2016). Prisons in the United States are commonly referred to as correctional institutions that are an integral part of Criminal Justice System (Griffiths, 2007). Prisons today carry out the many goals of punishment including rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation, and retribution with the hope to provide justice (Clear, 2012). Prisons effectively do their part in seeing that one, if not more, of these elements are met and successfully done. Prisons serve two main functions; separation and rehabilitation. The purpose of prisons is to securely house people who have been convicted of crimes and are sentenced to be kept in on-going custody for a certain period (Clear, 2012). The controversy is whether the prisons are supposed to punish, rehabilitate or keep the offenders away from the street. Prisoners are commonly called offenders, inmates or convicts. Incarceration serves a number of criminal justice functions, as a means of retribution against offenders, achieving justice for the victims of crimes, protecting the public from danger. Additionally, it is occasionally suggested that it should offer some form of rehabilitation to the offender (Miller, 2012). Once inmates are incarcerated, however, it is expected that the strict limitations of prison life would prevent further offending. Theories of incarceration argue that it is used to protect the public from criminal conduct; this alongside constant surveillance by prison guards should make it very difficult of prisoners to commit further offences within prison (Murphy, 2014).

This research is based upon news reports and court files that support the proposition that many offenders have managed to carry on their criminal careers within prison. The criminals are able to maintain their criminality through smuggling contraband items, such as cell phones, which are used to order killings and to traffic drugs.  Not only do the inmates themselves engage in criminal behaviour such as identity theft, smuggling of contraband items, the ordering of killings from prison, but there also appears to be a systematic problem of correctional officers being involved in the conspiracy to commit criminal acts. Since prison officers are able to enter and exit the prison, they are uniquely equipped to be able to smuggle contraband items such as cell phones and narcotics into prisons, for use by prisoners to commit further crimes or for resale within the prison for profit. Part of the reason for these issues appears to be the record numbers of inmates in United States prisons, which means that prison officers are in high demand and the correct standard of quality staff are unavailable (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2017). This is coupled with high levels of drug dependency among inmates, which creates a ready market for those with access to illegal drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017).

Poor wages and lack of training along with staff shortages are cited as the reasons why prison guards are attracted by opportunities to engage in criminal conspiracies with inmates (Navarro & Scott, 2016). According to Navarro (2016) corruption is becoming a systematic problem, which is dependent upon the engagement of prison staff. Prison staff play a vital role as guardians of the prison system, and their complicity in criminal activity creates a vital flaw in this system. The problem of criminality within prisons will be viewed within the context of Environmental Criminology, which includes Routine Activity Theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979). The theoretical framework will also rely upon the crime triangle, which explains crime in terms of a motivated offender, an appropriate target, and the absence of custodian or guardian (Jones, 2011). These three features will be examined in relation to the online newspaper articles and court files, which are identified and provide a discussion of the problem of criminality that is managed from within prisons. The research intends to answer the question: What are the factors contributing to the rise of criminality within United States prisons? The findings of the study are expected to provide useful information that can be used for effective prevention strategies and workable policies that can help minimize poor crime management in prison.

1.1 Research Question

What are the opportunities for criminality within U.S. prisons?

In evaluating this question, the research will consider the following sub-questions

  • What types of offences are committed in US prisons (a typology of offences by inmates will be established)
  • What opportunities do inmates have to commit crimes?
  • What role does corruption amongst prison officers serve to offer further opportunities for inmates to commit crimes in prison and outside of prison?
  • What offences do prison guards commit independently of inmates’ criminality?


2.1. Prison Population in the United States

The United States has the highest prison population in the world. The World Prison Brief estimates that the prison population of the United States is 2,145,100; the next largest is in China with 1,649,804 (World Prison Brief, 2016). The United States also has the second largest number of prisoners per capita, with 693 prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. In this respect, it is second only to the Seychelles, with 799 prisoners per 100,000 of the population. The Russian Federation has a high prison population of 451 prisoners per 100,000 of the population (Statistics Portal, 2016).

The United States not only incarcerates a lot of people, but it also uses a variety of different forms of incarceration. There are jails and prisons, which are locally run by cities or counties. Prisons or penitentiaries are run by states of the federal government. The Prison Policy Initiative gives an estimate of the United States’ prison population as 2.3 million. Most of these (1.36 million) inmates are in state prisons (Prison Policy Initiative, 2017). The Economists argues that “America locks up too many people for too many things.” Federal laws often have poor intent requirements, which means that people are being incarcerated, not to keep society safe, but to keep people for technical violations of laws they may not have known existed (The Economist, 2014). The high prison population in the United States leads to the problems discussed in the introduction; it has been suggested that good quality and trustworthy staff are not always available to fill these roles of great responsibility due to incredibly high demand as a result of the record numbers of individuals incarcerated.

2.2 Crimes Committed in U.S. Prisons

Many researchers have researched crimes that are committed within the prison walls. Wortley (2002) has reviewed extensive literature on the nature and scope of deviant behaviour and considers issues such as vandalism, prisoner-on-staff violence, escapes and riots. Wortley (2002) analyses the root of these problems and devises many specific control strategies to stop undesirable behaviour. He establishes a number of specific behaviours, which he identifies as problematic. These included prisoner-prisoner violence, sexual assaults, prisoner-staff violence, self-harm, drug abuse, escapes, and collective disorders (Wortley, 2002). The current research also focuses on the organisation of criminal activities that take place both inside the prison and outside. The research will establish three types of crime in prisons, these include a) crimes committed by inmates independently without the participation of corrupt prison guards or external accomplices; b) crimes committed in prison with the collaboration/cooperation of prison guards and c) crimes committed by prison guards only without the involvement of prisoners.

2.2.1 Crimes that Inmates Commit in U.S. Prisons

A 2010 CASA Report suggests that 1.5 million (65 percent) inmates met the DSM-IV criteria for substance abuse and another 458,000, while not meeting the DSM-IV criteria, had histories of substance abuse (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2010). Empirical data has identified strong correlations between substance abuse and criminality, even when drug trafficking is disregarded (Phillips et al, 2000). Although prisoners are segregated from society and in theory, should not have access to illicit drugs while incarcerated, estimates suggest that 50-70 percent of male prisoners use drugs while in prison (Zamani et al, 2010). Due to the nature of the offence, drug use is therefore, a crime committed independently by convicts while in prison. Clearly, there are other related offences such as drug smuggling and supply, which need to be accomplished in order for inmates to obtain a supply of drugs in prison; however, possession offences do not require any form of collaboration. Various factors are related to drug consumption in prison, including history of drug misuse prior to incarceration and longer terms of imprisonment (Rowell et al., 2012).

Violent crimes are also committed in prison between inmates. Wolff and colleagues (2006) found that inmate-on-inmate sexual violence was highest amongst female inmates (212 per 1000), more than four times of that between of male inmates (43 per 1,000) (Wolff, et al, 2006). Some prison inmates are found guilty of killing fellow prisoners during their incarceration. In Colorado State prisons, 16 inmates were murdered by fellow prisoners from 2002 to 2010. In Colorado Federal prisons, five homicides were reported between 2009 and 2016. Many of these killings were carried out by individuals who had already been convicted of murder and were serving life sentences (Cardona, 2016).

2.2.2 Crimes Committed by Guards and Inmates

Franca van der Laan (2012) has studied the crime entrepreneurs for prisons that manage to organise criminal acts in the outside world, while being incarcerated. He studied the leaders of organised crime enterprises, or crime entrepreneurs, who were engaged in various forms of crime, such as the importing or exporting of narcotics, human trafficking and extortion (Van der Laan, 2012). The author concludes that communication with the outside world presents many possibilities for inmates to manage their criminal operations from prison. Van der Laan relies upon the routine activity theory as a theoretical framework to explain the forms of criminal behaviour found in the case study (Van der Laan, 2012). The Routine Activity Theory also explains that there three elements that must be in place for one to learn or commit a crime and they include motivation, a suitable target and absence of guardian (Cohen & Felson, 1993). This theory asserts that once people do the crime and get away with it, they will do it again, thus becomes routine.

The study suggests that routine activity offers insight into the issue of crime entrepreneurs who manage their illegal activities from prisons in that the target within the crime triangle of routine activity theory, plays only an indirect role from within the walls of the prison. Accomplices play a critical role and the ability to communicate with such individuals determines the opportunity to engage in criminal activities. Therefore, the limitation of means of communication between prisoners and individuals outside of the prison is suggested to be key in reducing this kind of criminal activity (Van der Laan, 2012).

In another study, Blinder (2015) suggests that various crimes have been found to have been committed between inmates and officers, which involved guards or prison visitors bringing contraband items into prisons and prisoners using these to commit further offences. An example from Georgia includes a convicted murder who was committed identity theft offences by using a mobile phone. In South Carolina, the instigating of prison riot was committed through the use of mobile phone technology (Blinder, 2015).

2.2.3 Crimes Committed by Guards in Prison

Although assaults on prisoners are committed by other inmates, almost half of acts of violence against inmates are carried out by prison guards. High levels of sexual violence have been identified in prisons, whether the act was committed between inmates or perpetrated by staff upon inmates (Wolff, Blitz, Shi, et al, 2006). From 2011, The Department of Justice reports included over 8,700 alleged sexual assaults in prison and jails; the number of which has risen 11 percent from 2009 (Taylor, 2014). Bureau of justice statistics also revealed that nearly half of these assaults are committed against prisoners by correctional officers. Around 49 percent of the incidents each year involved prison staff members who had committed sexual misconduct, or who had otherwise sexually harassed prisoners. Women had experienced a disproportionate number of assaults, amounting to 33 percent of staff-on-inmate incidents (Taylor, 2014).

In addition, research has supported the idea that the deterrent effect of prison is very scarce (Wright, 2010). From a policy perspective, the deterrent effects of prison treatment have been particularly important. However, Drago (2011) has carried out research into how prison conditions affect the propensity of former inmates to commit further criminal acts. The research revealed that harsh prison conditions, which purport to have a deterrent effect had little impact upon reducing the propensity to re-engage in criminal activities. In fact, overall, they found that prison harshness, measured by overcrowding and number of deaths in prison, exacerbates recidivism (Drago, 2011). When recidivism is carried out while inmates are still in prison, it may be suggested that crime within prisons may be linked also with prison overcrowding, which are the current conditions in prisons within the United States.

Therefore, the gap in the literature needs to be further investigated so that the link between the three identified factors that impact an inmate or prison guards to commit crimes within prisons can be examined thoroughly. The link of high crime rates in United States prisons and the involvement of prison guards in these offences will be analysed. Low wages, it seems, might lead to the temptation of guards to be involved in crimes in collaboration with inmates which leads to the corruption from prison staff.


Theories of the relationship between crime and the environment began to develop during the 1970s as scholars began to question the fundamental structure and the organisation of society as fundamental causes of crime (Jones, 2011). Cohen and Felson (1979) set out an elaborated version of the criminal opportunity theory, which they called ‘routine activity theory’.  The theory posits that individuals fulfil their basic needs through routine activities, such as work, shopping and leisure. These activities determine where someone will be located and what they will be doing at any given time (Felson, 1993).

Crime is explained by the convergence of three factors: a motivated offender, an appropriate target and the absence of a custodian or guardian. The second and third of these factors are particularly dependent on a pattern of routine activities (Cohen & Felson, 1979).  Consideration is also given for the daily activities of potential victims as well as those who naturally offer surveillance such as members of the community. Thus, changes in social life over time and in different neighbourhoods have an implication for crime in general (Felson, 1993).

Routine activity theory arose out of the search for an explanation as to why some areas with attractive targets suffered high victimisation whereas others did not and why the highest rates of victimisation took place in areas where attractive targets were largely absent. Out of the three factors: the attractive target, how well the target is guarded or surveilled and the availability of the offender, the focus is mainly on the second of these (Williams, 2008). It considers the day-to-day activities of victims and their neighbours and predicts that in an environment where these two groups are mainly absent for a large part of the day, because of work or recreational activities. It is posited, therefore, that rural communities have lower crime rates due to greater surveillance by neighbours than urban areas (Williams, 2008).

There three elements of Routine Activity Theory form what has been referred to as the crime triangle. Relying upon routine activity theory therefore it is posited that potential offenders, with their own experiences, motives and knowledge bases their choices about whether or not to engage in criminal activity based upon their perceptions of potential targets and the degree of monitoring or surveillance present (Laan, 2012). These three elements of criminality which exist within U.S. prison system will be examined; these include the conditions under which inmates and prison guards become motivated offenders, the lack of access to goods or services in prison, which creates suitable targets, and the lack of a capable guardian, which is the result of corruption amongst correctional officers or their inability to monitor overcrowded prisons.


4.1 Methods of Data Collection

4.1.1 Problem Statement

Prisons are established to punish and rehabilitate offenders and to protect the public from dangerous individuals. However, it is hard to see how these aims are being achieved in United States prison in the case of prisoners who are carrying out their criminal enterprises from prisons, often with the involvement of prison officers (Zammit Lupi, 2016). Through this research crime will be broken down into three categories of Routine Activity Theory that examines the criminality within U.S. prisons. It will evaluate these reports focusing on the three factors that impact an inmate or prison guard to commit a crime: (1) a motivated offender, (2) a suitable target and (3) absence of a capable guardian.

4.1.2 Research Design

This research study will adopt a deductive approach: it will use the rationale choice theory as a lens through which to analyse the issue of criminality committed within the prisons in the United States. A deductive approach means that a theory is used to develop a proposition and then a research framework is designed to test that proposition (Collins, 2010:42). The five stages of deduction include writing a testable proposition, which is included in the statement of the problem. This proposition is then tested; the outcome of the research shows how the proposition should be modified. Finally, the proposition is modified and the process is repeated (Collins, 2010: 42). The general focus is on the prison population of the United States, but there is a specific focus upon prisoners and corrections officers who engage in criminality within prisons. The research will also focus upon strategies adopted by prisoners and officers to carry out crimes, despite the highly monitored form of the prison environment.

4.1.3 Research Question

What are the opportunities for criminality within U.S. prisons?

  1. Dependent variable: Crimes committed within US prisons
  2. Independent variable: Criminal opportunity

4.1.4 Hypothesis

Increased opportunities for criminality are related to increased criminality in U.S. prisons. There opportunities are in part dependent upon the lack of guardianship and corruption by correctional officers, but also through access to mobile communications technology, which enables convicted criminals to have contact with accomplices outside of the prison. Those opportunities lead to the presence of drug trafficking, fraud, assassination and corruption in U.S. prisons.

4.1.5 Data Collection Methods

The main method of data collection is secondary data analysis, which relies upon newspaper reports from the American media in relation to reports of prison arrests of inmates and officers who conduct criminal enterprise from within prisons. Court files from the Department of Justice will also be investigated. Data collection will also be carried out from journal articles, books, websites and government publications. Court files and newspapers files will be used to create the three typologies of crime.

4.2 Method of Data Analysis

The methodology adopted for this study will be a content analysis of printed news media and will consider the number of times that certain themes arise in reports about crimes and criminality in U.S. prisons (Semmens, 2011). The content analysis will include descriptions of the event and the characteristics of the offenders and victims of the crime. It will also include an analysis of the nature of the crime prevented and focus mainly on the three factors presented in routine activity theory: a motivated offender, a suitable target and the lack of capable guardian within news reports of offences identified (Von Lampe 2009). The next stage in a content analysis is to develop a coding schedule and recording units (Semmens, 2011). The researcher intends to analyse the factors contributing to the rise of criminality within U.S. prisons.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to the use of a content analysis. On the plus side, documents are readily available; there are a variety of online news items that have been located between 2015 – 2017 in which reports of criminal activity in prisons can be found. These are readily available through simple internet searches for terms such as “the management of crime from prison”. These news documents have been produced for the purpose of informing the public about the situation of criminality within U.S. prisons. They give the researcher the opportunity to engage in research on prisons that is unobtrusive and comes from a position of non-participation (Semmens, 2011). The main disadvantage is that the material can be hard to organise and analyse. Research of this kind is always vulnerable to misreading by the researcher who makes assumptions of the document information that is not really there (Semmens, 2011).

4.3 Discussion of Limitations

Due to costs and time constraints of the research projects, the researcher does not have any particular funding for the project, and it is conducted within a short period of time. It is not possible to carry out interviews with prison inmates or correction officers to appreciate the exact positions in U.S. prisons, due to lack of access to such subjects and potential risks of doing so. Furthermore, when analysing news reports about criminality in U.S. prisons, there is a risk that a news report may portray a certain bias, in that it provides information that is considered commercially newsworthy as opposed to a fuller picture of the situation (Vliegenthart, 2012).


The following section will evaluate a number of reports of crimes and criminality within U.S. prisons. It will evaluate these reports within the context of ‘routine activity theory’, focusing on the three factors: a motivated offender, a suitable target and the lack of capable guardian within the context of prison crime (Von Lampe, 2009). The general trends of crimes have been split into the three themes which explain the factors that impact an inmate to commit a crime: there are crimes committed by inmates and prison guards for financial gain, criminal opportunities in prison for inmates and prison guards and the final category are crimes such as bribery committed by prison guards acting alone.

Case Studies

5.1. Routine Activity Theory and Crime in U.S. Prisons

5.1.1. The Motivated offender

Financial gain

Motivated offenders exist within all the reports included above. The involvement of prison officers is explained by their low wages, long working hours, and lack of training and staff shortages. Simpson (2016) explains how the United States correctional institutions are struggling to recruit the appropriately qualified individuals, due to mass incarceration, which means that prisons are overcrowded, and that there are insufficient people with the appropriate training and experience to do the job. There are further news reports of the involvement of correction officer’s complicity in crime in prisons. In February 2016, 46 officers employed at nine Georgia prisons were indicted for accepting bribes to assist inmates with illegal activity (Wang, 2016). The common story is one of payment to prison officers who accept bribes from inmates to smuggle contraband (cell phones, tobacco, etc) into prisons, as well as the use of law enforcement status to protect purported drug deals (Wang, 2016).

In 2016, the FBI arrested 46 current and former correction officers in an operation at nine facilities around Georgia; it was the outcome of a two-year operation. The US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia stated that the indictments revealed “staggering corruption within Georgia Department of Corrections institutions” (Brown & Ryan, 2016). It was found that prison guards and staff had been smuggling alcohol, tobacco and cell phones into the prisons for financial gain.

Inmates have been found to carry out identity theft crimes while in prison. An inmate in California was found guilty of conspiring to use stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns; he operated this scheme for two years, and it accrued him and an accomplice more than $600,000 (Serna, 2017). During this time, the inmate convinced fellow prisoners to give him their full names and Social Security numbers and paid others $75 for every inmate that they recruited to do the same. He and his accomplice created a limited liability company, which they used to file federal income tax returns for more than 700 prison inmates, the returns, included fabricated information regarding wages, salaries and gratuities (Serna, 2017).

In 2015, twelve people were indicted of being involved in crime rings which involved inmates in Georgia prisons who would order killings, deal in narcotics and engage in identity theft (Blinder, 2015). The significant tool, which enabled the inmates to engage in such crimes, was the cell phone, which had been smuggled into the prisons (Blinder, 2015). Inmates in Georgia Department of Corrections institutions were using the cell phones to commit fraud, money laundering offences and identity theft (Brown & Ryan, 2016).

In October 2016, prosecutors indicted 80 guards, inmates and outsiders in a massive in the biggest federal case ever in Maryland, which offers a glimpse at the deep roots of corruption within the U.S. corrections system. This particular indictment, related to 18 correction officers, 35 inmates and 27 outside assistances who ran a smuggling operation inside the Eastern Correctional Institution new Westover, Maryland. Prosecutors, brought charges of bringing narcotics, cell phones, pornographic DVDs in tobacco into prisons for money and sex with inmates. One guard was accused of arranging prisoners to attack an inmate who was suspected of being an informant (Simpson, 2016).

A former correctional officer was sentenced to over 4 years, followed by three years of supervised release for his involvement in a racketing conspiracy and drug conspiracy, involving the smuggling of drugs and contraband in the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) and for a money laundering conspiracy (USAO – Maryland, 2015). The prison guard was working in collaboration with the BGF, the dominant gang in the detention centers who was involved with and often directed the smuggling of contraband into BCDC (USAO – Maryland, 2015).

5.1.2. A Suitable Target for Crime

Criminal Opportunity

The contraband goods that are being smuggled into the prisons include cell phones, tobacco, illicit drugs, pornographic DVDs, synthetic marijuana and opioid strips.  These items are used as currency in prison; they can be sold for cash or exchanged for sex. The nature of prison is that such goods are restricted, which makes them attractive items and, hence, suitable targets for crime (Williams, 2012:317). Weapons are also smuggled into prisons. In fact, Novarro (2016) reported that 2,780 knives and other weapons had been recovered in New York City jails in 2016, all of which had presumably been smuggled into prisons. It is clear that there is significant demand for contraband goods and amongst these are weapons.

In Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population, it is reported that 65 percent of the United States’ prison population meet the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol and other drug abuse and addiction. Another 20 percent do not meet the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, for addiction they are nevertheless substance involved.  This means that they may have been under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their offence, had stolen money to buy drugs, are substance abusers, violated alcohol or drugs laws or shared some combination of these characteristics (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2010: i).  With the majority of the prison population being drug dependent to some extent, there is no surprise that contraband drugs would be an attractive item and a target for crime in U.S. prisons.

In December 2014, a federal prison guard was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment for smuggling alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana into a federal prison facility for inmates (USAO – Georgia, Southern, 2015). In October 2013, another correctional officer in McRae Georgia pleaded guilty of attempting to smuggle a cell phone into a federal prison for an inmate and was sentenced to 30 days in prison, 60 hours of community service and one year of supervised release (USAO – Georgia, Southern, 2014).

At Phillips State prison, a convicted murderer in this prison was accused of using a cell phone to fraudulently pose as a representative of a credit card company to steal personal information. Prison authorities have expressed frustration about the involvement of prison guards in the problem, citing the use of new technology as enabling contraband to facilitate criminality within the prison (Blinder, 2015). The evidence suggests that serious offenders are able to carry out serious offences from inside of prison. Thus convicted killers are able to order further killings by using cell phones smuggled into prisons, commit identity theft or fraudulently file tax returns

Crimes committed in isolation by prison guards tend to be crimes of violence against inmates in prisons. In 2016, three former correctional officers from Augusta State Medical prison were indicted for their respective roles in the beating of an inmate (USAO – Georgia, Southern, 2016). One of the officers was alleged to have assaulted the inmate while he handcuffed, and the other two guards were alleged to have written false reports to cover up the assault (USAO – Georgia, Southern, 2016a).

Further instances of abuse by correctional officers include choking, punching and striking inmates with wooden broom handles in the South Florida Reception Center. Officers were charged with civil rights offences, (Department of Justice, 2015a). In other instances, Correctional officers have been found guilty of repeatedly striking an inmate with a baton, while other officers covered up the incident, (Department of Justice, 2015b) and of widespread sexual abuse of inmates by prison officers (Office of the Inspector General, 2005).

These most recent arrests were illustrative of a small element of the problem. In 2016 correction officers, had recovered 2,780 knives and other weapons in the first five months of 2016. This was an increase on the recovery of 1,875 weapons during the same period in the previous year (Novarro, 2016). Smuggled contraband was considered to be the leading reason for violence in the New York City jails; recent reforms have also included tightened screening procedures (Novarro, 2016). In May 20 2016, Diane Sawyer of ABC News spent seven days inside the Rikers Island facility, interviewing officers and inmates. Rikers Island in notorious for its excessive violence, crumbling facilities and general poor conditions of the inmates (Scott, 2016). Pressure has come from the public to shut down the Jail Complex, with a federal order having been imposed to end the widespread abuse (Scott, 2016). Telecommunications

The use of cell phones in prisons, particularly pay as you go mobiles, are a key element of opportunity presented to inmates to commit crimes from prison (NIJ, 2011).. Since modern cell phones are lightweight and can be thinner than a match book, they send audio and data including written messages and video (NIJ, 2011). Cell phones are used to order killings and to pose as a representative of a credit card company to steal information (Binder, 2015). They were also used to commit fraud, money laundering offences and theft of identities (Brown and Ryan 2016).

There are other instances cited by the National Institute of Justice, in which prisoners have used cell phones to harass and threaten their victims. In New York, an inmate on medical transfer used a cell phone to orchestrate an escape (NIJ, 2011). A death row inmate in Texas used his cell phone to threaten a senator. The case studies illustrated that inmates can use illegally obtained cell phones to intimidate prosecutors and prosecution witnesses and to compromise the judicial process (Brown and Ryan 2016).  An incident in a Georgia prison involved a woman being texted photos of her boyfriend being strangled, with threats that the assaults would continue if she did not send him $300 (Goldman, 2016).

Prisoners are prohibited from possessing cell phones in prison. However, despite this ban, their use is very widespread. A single prison in South Carolina recently discovered 35,000 cell phone calls and texts over a period of just 23 days (Goldman, 2016). Prisoners in U.S. institutions are permitted to make phone calls, but they must use special landlines in which calls can be monitored by law enforcement officials (Goldman, 2016).

In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommended that prisons would use blocking technologies that would prevent inmates from using cell phones in correctional institutions. Technology is available to prevent inmates from using cell phones (Goldman, 2016). Prisoners were allowed to manage their own cell phone network access, and allowed only an approved list of phones to make calls on that network; the guard’s phones would get a full signal, but prisoner’s contraband phones would not gain access to the mobile network (Goldman, 2016). Five states – California, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas have tested such systems in their prisons. Under current FCC rules, each prison must apply to the agency every time it wants to pilot and implement such a network system (Goldman, 2016). Accomplices

The case studies above also cite other accomplices in addition to the prison inmates and prison guards. In Westover, Maryland, 27 civilians were also indicted on offences related to the running of criminal enterprises in prisons (Zammit Lupi, 2016). Professional criminals with a fixed set of accomplices and associates needed only a few words within meetings to keep their crime organisations running, especially where criminal activities are of a routine nature (Laan, 2012). Blinder reports that inmates had ordered killings from prison; this requires associations with individuals on the outside of prisons, including visitors to act as accomplices in such criminal enterprises (2015). The case studies and other documents list a number of other accomplices that are involved in criminality in prisons; one includes a dentist (NIJ 2011) and a prison cook (Novarro, 2016). Visitors

Federal inmates are permitted at least four hours visiting time per month, but prisons can usually provide more than this. Visiting periods are usually limited by the location of the prison, the prison type, and the visiting needs of the inmate and the availability of visiting space (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2017). Visitors must be pre-approved and are generally limited to certain categories of people; these include immediate family, relatives and other types of approved visitors including minsters of religion, attorneys and friends or associates (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2017).

5.1.3. The Absence of Capable Guardian


The detection of criminal behaviour in prisons can be observed by prison personnel or fellow inmates, since, as discussed earlier, a large number of prison inmates are gang members. It is likely that there are certain allegiances between gang members who are not likely to abandon on a fellow gang member (Laan, 2012).  The case studies above implicate a large number of prison officers within the crimes committed. All cases of reported indictments included a proportion of prison guards as being part of those included in the criminality. Zammit Lupi (2016) reports that of 80 individuals indicted, 18 are correctional officers. In Rikers Island, seventeen people were arrested in relation to smuggling of contraband; two of those arrested were corrections officer and one was a DOC employed cook (Novarro, 2016).

It is posited that the surge in incarceration in recent years means that correctional institutions are struggling to hire enough well-qualified corrections officer to guard the prison population (Simpson, 2016). The prison warden job in the U.S. offers low wages and dangerous working conditions which create a situation in which corruption can occur. A 32 percent increase in the levels of prison-related corruption cases have been identified from 2013-2014. Staff shortages are common since Department of Corrections jobs tend to be low paid and dangerous. The average pay for a Maryland corrections officer is $38,000, in comparison to $46,000, which a State Trooper can earn from post-graduation to the academy (Simpson, 2016). Furthermore, Maryland is paying $50 million a year on overtime payments, due to staff shortages; and hence, correction officers are working in poor working conditions for long hours. Maryland has an inmate to officer ratio of 3 to 1. Training is also considered to be an issue with Maryland correction officers receiving 12 weeks training, which can be compared to corrections officers in Germany, who receive 2 years (Simpson, 2016).  Poor working conditions and low pay may be a partial explanation as to why prison correctional officers frequently collaborate in crimes with inmates

In Maryland, a federal grand jury indicted 80 defendants, 18 of which were correctional officers for conducting a massive criminal enterprise from within the Maryland prison system. The other individuals charged included 35 inmates and 27 others who were outside of the prison system, revealing a vast conspiracy. Prison officers are accused of accepting bribes to smuggle cocaine, heroin, pornography and cell phones into the prison facility (Zammit Lupi, 2016). The U.S. Attorney for Maryland stated that “prison corruption is a longstanding, deeply-rooted systematic problem that can only be solved by a combination of criminal prosecutions and policy changes” (Zammit Lupi, 2016).

Corrections officers were charged with a number of offences, in particular abusing their positions of trust as sworn officers, engaging in illegal activities to enrich themselves and in engaging in sexual relations with prison inmates (Zammit Lupi, 2016). The inmates were accused of soliciting corrections officers to smuggle contraband into the prisons, which they sold with a substantial profit (Zammit Lupi, 2016). Representatives of the prison officers argued that poor working conditions in the prison and shortages of staff led to increasing stress for prison officers; there was a need for the department to hire an adequate number of staff to make sure there were sufficient operating staff to make sure that checks and balances were in place (Zammit Lupi, 2016).

Brown and Ryan (2016) reported how inmates within Georgia Department of Corrections institution used illegally obtained cell phones both to intimidate witnesses and prosecutors and compromise the judicial process. The widespread nature of collaboration by prison officers is indicated with the 46 correction officers being arrested and indicted (Brown and Ryan 2016). Prison officers have also been found guilty of accepting bribes from inmates for smuggling contraband items (cell phones and tobacco) into the Correctional Institution, D. Ray James, a privately operated facility which houses federal inmates in Folkston Georgia (USAO – Georgia, Southern, 2016b).

In 2016, seventeen people, including inmates of Rikers Island in New York and correction officers were arrested in relation to a contraband smuggling operation. Among those arrested were a Department of Correction employed cook and two New York City DOC officers (Novarro, 2016). Corrections officers in the Rikers Island arrests were also alleged to have smuggled scalpels into the prison, despite a fellow correction officer having been slashed on his face and needing 20 stitches. Friends and family members of convicts would give both contraband and cash to the prison officers who smuggled scalpels wrapped in duct tape to avoid metal detectors, synthetic marijuana and opioid strips (Novarro, 2016).

5.2 Systematic Criminality in U.S. Prisons

The examples discussed above show evidence of systematic criminality within U.S. prisons, where the prison guards who are charged with the responsibility of maintaining discipline and order within the prisons are implicated in criminal conduct. Opportunity appears to be one of the factors that relate to the increase in crime being carried out from within prison cells; in particular, the availability of technology in the form of cell phones allows prisoners to maintain criminal contact with those outside of the prison. Poor working conditions for prison officers and insufficient staff numbers are also cited as explanations for why prison guards are susceptible to bribery and engagement with prison crime. The scale of involvement of correction officers with the crimes appears to suggest their key role in the criminality. Without the complicity of prison officers to smuggle contraband goods into the prisons, opportunities for crime seem much less likely.

Mass incarceration leads to a multitude of other societal problems. Almost half a million people in the United States are locked up due to a non-violent drug offence, which is a defining characteristic of the federal prison system. The state practice of arresting people for the possession of drugs destabilises individual lives and communities (Wagner and Rabuy, 2017). Drug arrests give residents of disproportionately policed communities a criminal record, which reduces employment prospects and increases the likelihood of for future criminal offences. Imprisonment, once again, leads to employment prospects being reduced. Once legitimate employment opportunities are eliminated, extension of criminality inside the prison becomes almost inevitable (Wagner and Rabuy, 2017).


The cases discussed above illustrate various opportunities which are available to prison inmates that enable them to diversify into other areas of criminality while in prison in the United States. The collaboration of prison guards within the criminality show the gaps in surveillance methods used. The availability of cell phones in prisons seems to be a critical factor in allowing prisoners to communicate with accomplices outside of prisons. Although there are technologies available that would prevent the use of cell phones in prisons, their implementation has not yet been facilitated on a wide scale. Six institutions were reviewed in the news reports; the individuals who are tasked with the role of guardian within the crime triangle of routine activity theory are the prison guards, and beyond that, the criminal justice system.

However, indications suggest a major weakness in prison personnel, largely due to the mass incarceration in the United States. In a country where 5 percent of the population will spend some time in prison during their lifetimes, prisons are overcrowded, and the facilities are often at breaking point. As discussed, the availability of well trained and professional correctional officers is compromised on a number of bases: (1) the prison officers are not considered to be well paid, (2) their training is limited in comparison to other democratic countries, and (3) there are staff shortages in many areas, which mean correctional officers are required to carry out significant levels of overtime.

Drugs are also an enormous problem in U.S. prisons. Firstly, prison populations are the largest in the world, the reason for which is the massive proportion of drugs arrests. This is coupled with the fact that the United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population; as a result, the country is responsible for two thirds of the world’s illegal drug consumption (National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2010). For decades, the United States had emphasised criminalisation for drugs offences, including simple drug use and possession. Every 25 seconds, someone in the United States is arrested for simple possession of drugs for personal use and, as a result, nearly 140,000 people are in prison for their drug use in any one day (Human Rights Watch, 2017).

The tremendous harm of the ‘War on Drugs’ has resulted in massive numbers of people being locked up for low-level offences and being a significant cause of the enormous prison populations (Human Rights Watch, 2017). Harsh prison conditions, in the form of overcrowding, have been linked with recidivism on the outside of prisons and may be one explanation of high crime rates inside of prisons. Further linked with drug dependent inmates, it is also very likely that illicit drugs smuggled into prisons will be of high demand and will promote opportunities for the smuggling of contraband goods to raise cash to buy and use drugs.

Finally, prison officers and their complicity in crimes are playing a key role in crimes committed inside the United States prisons; this is also linked to the situation of prison overcrowding, having created conditions in which there are shortages of qualified and contentious prison guards. Low wages and low morale appear to be breeding grounds for correctional officers who act in conspiracy with inmates to commit crimes which can be appear low-level, such as smuggling cell phones into prisons; however, when cell phones are used to intimidate witnesses or to order killings, these can amount to very serious crimes.

The main limitations of this research were the inability to conduct any investigations into prisons themselves in the form of primary research into prison conditions or crime in prisons. The research has relied upon news reports and court files, which were published online. Though the reports are likely to be an accurate source of information, they have not been verified from an external source. The risks of inaccuracy in these reports have been mitigated by relying upon a number of reports, which provide similar information.


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