Applying Correctional Intelligence to Law Enforcement Investigations

By Godwin, Cory A. | Corrections Today, August 1999 | Go to article overview
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Applying Correctional Intelligence to Law Enforcement Investigations


Godwin, Cory A., Corrections Today


The traditional motivating factors a correctional agency uses to form gang intelligence units typically are related to incidents of "gang-motivated" disruptive behavior within its facilities. However, what if no documented history of gang violence exists, or if the level of gang violence does not seem substantial enough to warrant the resources necessary to create a successful intelligence program? There are other substantial factors that should be considered, such as the benefits of reacting before a problem develops or manifests itself. Another key factor is the availability of valuable criminal intelligence within the prison population that can dramatically assist outside law enforcement investigations.

Corrections Overlooked

Corrections often is forgotten as a source of information during traditional law enforcement investigations. Yet, prisons are an invaluable source of intelligence for the entire criminal justice system. Prison populations are a reflection of the criminal element of our communities.

With the increased awareness by correctional managers of the need to collect gang intelligence and to create formal intelligence units, many sheriffs' offices, police departments and state investigators are now realizing the benefits of contacting their departments of correction or county jails when investigating street crimes.

Drive-by shootings, robberies and even homicides that involve suspects who have gang affiliates or social acquaintances serving time should automatically generate an inquiry to correctional agencies to determine if any intelligence is available. Often, corrections is not seen as a potential source of investigative assistance, but a mere byproduct of the investigative effort. This must change.

The FBI created its nationally renowned Behavior Sciences Unit, popularized in the movie "Silence of the Lambs," which showed that if you want to determine what makes serial killers do what they do, you ought to go into the prisons and talk to them. This concept is so practical and fundamental, yet the criminal justice system has routinely avoided it.

I have heard numerous presentations from law enforcement experts in gang investigations highlighting the success of enforcement initiatives by stating as the final outcome, "We put them away," "We took them down" or "We sent them to prison." Convicted felons do not reside in cells with no contact with the outside world. Instead, they have access to methods of communication that are provided, created and/or altered to suit their criminal intentions. The notion that offenders stop being offenders when placed in a detention environment simply is not accurate.

For example, if a person who ran a dry cleaning business was arrested and sentenced to prison, would he or she not do everything possible to maintain this business from prison? He or she would likely call business associates, mail financial documents, review expense reports and meet with business partners during inmate visitation. Why would we assume then that inmates, specifically gang leaders, would not do the same?

Inmate telephones, mail, visitation programs, package permits and manipulation of staff all contribute to the ability of inmates to participate and/or lead organized criminal groups within prisons or county jails. In addition to these communication capabilities, there is the sheer boredom associated with "doing time." This contributes to the potential for organized criminal enterprises to develop and, with no monitoring, to be successful. The threat is magnified by the realization that convicted felons eventually do get out, or are placed under community supervision. They then have the ability to impact crime back on the streets. Released gang members often are given "missions" or criminal assignments to accomplish upon release.

Nearly every major street gang that is active in the United States receives direction from persons incarcerated in correctional facilities.

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