Trending Topics

3 tech advances that are corrupting corrections

With recent technological developments come increased opportunities for staff to “do the wrong thing”

A new year means new opportunities, and that’s both good and bad. With recent technological developments come increased opportunities for staff to “do the wrong thing.” I have written several articles on staff corruption as it is probably my single biggest concern as a warden and corrections professional. Like most of you who work in the business, I have seen some crazy things.

Bad staff jeopardizes all of us by bringing in contraband, establishing inappropriate relationships with offenders and compromising the community’s safety. The introduction of green dot cards, smart phones and synthetic marijuana increase the opportunity for corruption.

Recently, an estranged husband called an unnamed facility after discovering on his correctional officer wife’s cell phone messages from an inmate. After further investigation, he discovered thousands of dollars on “green dot” cards paid to her. Green dot cards are prepaid, reloadable credit cards that are virtually untraceable. Money can be added to cards at various retailers and there is no paper trail. You can live in one part of the United States and add money on a green dot card from anywhere.

The green dot cards allow for payments that don’t cause attention to your bank account making it more difficult to investigate allegations. The Florida Attorney Generals Office has received an increased number of complaints of fraud schemes involving green dot cards (Sun Sentinel, Jul 2012). Prison inspectors throughout the country are catching on and awareness is a start. The fact that these are basically anonymous makes it an easy way for inmates’ and their friends, families, or fellow gang members to pay off corrupt staff.

Cell phones have always been a threat to the security of jails and prisons. The introduction of smart phones has increased our risk. Inmates who possess smart phones have access to the internet where they can obtain information to continue criminal activity as well as find out information about employees. Imagine an inmate accessing your Facebook page and finding out about your family and leisure activity, or Googling your name and being able to get your address and seeing a photo of your home. That information can be used to begin the grooming process to get staff to cross the line.

It is estimated in Florida alone, eleven cell phones per day are found (WCTV, Tallahassee Florida 2/16/14). That number is shocking since it is probably half of what’s there. There are several methods through cell phones get into prisons – over fences, in outside deliveries, through outside grounds crews, through inmate visitors and via staff.

The other “technological advance” so to speak is synthetic marijuana. K2 spice, as it is referred to, is man-made, synthetic marijuana. The chemical compounds change regularly, making it difficult to detect in urine analysis or with drug detection field kits. Although there are now tests for these, the accuracy has yet to be established. K2 can be purchased in convenience stores in some states, tempting staff to bring it in for inmates to smoke. The high from this synthetic marijuana is unpredictable. I had a long-term drug user in prison tell me he was frightened after smoking K2 and could not recall his actions. The potential for violence against staff from inmates under the influence is dangerous.

Whether it’s mechanical or chemical, these “advances” make our jobs as corrections professionals much more challenging. It also makes the ability and temptation for corrupt staff to go astray much easier. Remember, do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do and report those staff that choose to stray.

Laura E. Bedard began her work in corrections as a jail administrator in 1984. During her tenure as administrative faculty for the College of Criminology at Florida State University, she ran a study-abroad program in the Czech Republic lecturing on crime topics in an emerging democracy. In 2005, she became the first female Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. There she was responsible for 27,000 state employees and over 200,000 offenders in the third largest correctional system in the country. Dr. Bedard has published and lectured on a number of corrections-related topics including women in prison, mental health issues and correctional leadership. Dr. Bedard is currently serving as the Chief of Corrections for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Sanford, Florida.