Kojo explores the life and legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer, a poor Mississippi sharecropper who became an outspoken voice in the civil rights movement and the fight for voting rights.
Thirteen female jail guards allegedly helped a national gang deal drugs and launder money from inside the Baltimore city jail. Experts say it happens across the country, especially at urban jails where inmates and guards come from the same community, budget cuts mean fewer guards to support each other and black markets for contraband items thrive. Kojo explores the prevalence of gangs and racketeering inside our prisons, and asks who is responsible.
- Glenn Ivey Former State’s Attorney in Prince George’s County, Maryland; former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, DC; Attorney at Leftwich and Ludaway
- Martin Horn Distinguished Lecturer, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; former Commissioner of Corrections for the city of New York; former Secretary of Corrections for the state of Pennsylvania
- Brenda Smith Professor, Washington College of Law, American University; Member, National Prison Rape Commission (2003-2009)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It sounds like a television crime show in which the inmates are running the jail. Four female prison guards have babies with the same inmate, a dozen guards stick cell phones and prescription drugs in their underwear and smuggle into the city's detention center.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd who do they give this contraband to? Gang members who are trafficking drugs and laundering money from inside the jail. Federal indictments unsealed last month paint the Baltimore City Detention Center as rife with corruption. Prosecutors say guards and inmates were colluding in a drug ring so successful that the gang leader behind bars used his proceeds to buy a Mercedes Benz.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe jail's top administrator in charge of security has been removed and pundits are calling for more heads to roll. But experts say this is not an isolated case that staffing cuts have made sexual misconduct and gang activity common in the nation's prisons.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss it is Brenda Smith. She's a professor at the Washington College of Law at American University. Her work examines sexual violence in custody and issues involving female correctional workers. She's a member of the former National Prison Rape Commission. Brenda Smith, thank you for joining us.
MS. BRENDA SMITHThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with is Glenn Ivey, former State's Attorney in Prince George's County, Md. He's the former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington D.C. He's currently an attorney at Leftwich and Ludaway. Glenn Ivey, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
MR. GLENN IVEYGood to be back.
NNAMDIAlso joining us from NPR studios in New York City is Martin Horn, distinguished lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He's a former Commissioner of Corrections for the city of New York and a former Secretary of Corrections for the state of Pennsylvania. Martin Horn, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARTIN HORNGood to join you.
NNAMDIAnd I'll start with you, Martin Horn. Put this case in perspective please. It's alarming because of the breadth of the gang operation inside the jail and the number of women who became pregnant by the same inmate. Do these things happen elsewhere?
HORNCertainly they do. Within the last six months, of course, we've seen a case in New York City at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison in Brooklyn where a female officer became pregnant by an inmate. There have been incidents like this throughout the country so I think the difference here is really one of scale.
NNAMDIGlenn Ivey, you were a Maryland prosecutor, the State's attorney for Prince George's County. Were you surprised to hear about a gang operating inside the Baltimore jail and about female guards having children with inmates?
IVEYGangs, no. I think gangs are, you know, populate almost every prison of any size in the United States. I guess the scope of what was going on here did surprise me and the number of pregnancies between corrections officers and inmates also surprised me.
NNAMDIBrenda Smith, how common is it for women to be the perpetrators of sexual abuse in prisons if that's what this was, which we'll get to later?
SMITHYou know, actually it's very, very common. Some of my work on the commission really revealed the scope of the problem. And what we know based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that both in prisons and jails in terms of the percentages of staff perpetrators about 70 percent are female in adult facilities, prisons and jails. And in juvenile facilities we're talking about 95 percent of the staff perpetrators are female.
NNAMDIMembers of the Black Guerrilla family allegedly targeted female guards who they thought had low esteem. What's the profile of a guard who might be susceptible to sexual overtures from inmates and might agree to smuggle in contraband? I'll start with you, Brenda, then go around the group.
SMITHKojo, I have to say that I don't buy the low self-esteem. I really don't and we can talk about that a little later. But I think that anybody is vulnerable. The conditions in these institutions are poor, often female staff themselves face sexual harassment in sort of sexualized environments not only from the inmates but also from their male coworkers.
SMITHI think these are also very low paying positions. One of the things that we also know statistically is that about 70 percent of women who are correctional workers are single, unmarried. Where the inverse is true for male staff, about 70 percent of them are partnered.
SMITHAnd then when you add in sort of mass incarceration where many of the individuals who would be likely mates for these women in the community they're actually supervising. You're actually creating an environment that's rife for this kind of abuse.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Martin Horn?
HORNI certainly agree with Brenda that low self-esteem is not the issue. I think there are several things going on and it's not unique to women. I think that especially nowadays when budgets have been cut and correction officers staffing is in most places, in my estimation, inadequate.
HORNOfficers quite frankly are often terrified. On any given day there are more inmates than there are officers and the officers in many instances both men and women occasionally enter into what I refer to as a devil's bargain with the inmates and for their own personal safety.
HORNAnd I think that there, you know, several things that Brenda mentioned that bear repeating. I think when you look at the salaries that are paid to corrections officers, when you look at the training, when you compare it to other law enforcement professionals.
HORNLook at Maryland, these are Maryland State Correction Officers, compare them to Maryland State Troopers in terms of their training, their pay, the public esteem in which they are held and finally I would say the message that we as a community give not only to the officers but to the public is that the individuals in prison are somewhat the detritus of our society not to be thought well of.
HORNThis, you know, this washes up upon on the officers as well. they pick up on that, on that message. And at the end of the day the only thing that protects us really is the integrity of the officers and their professionalism and a level of supervision and all of those things are jeopardized when there is inadequate staffing, when there is inadequate training, when there is inadequate supervision.
NNAMDIGlenn Ivey, your thoughts?
IVEYWell, I think that's right and, you know, I think in addition to that though I think, you know, the open secret is, as I mentioned before, we've had gangs in prisons in the United States since I can remember and certainly as long as my law enforcement career has been going.
IVEYAnd there's been a reluctance to really press forward and deal with a lot of that in some situations. Now, they'll try and do some things to limit the power of some of these gangs but it's pretty clear that if you're inmate going in frequently you feel like you have to join one of these teams or another just to survive.
IVEYAnd I think the point that was made a moment ago because some of these gangs are so powerful inside of jail some of the corrections officers, you know, if you're shorthanded and you, you know, lack supervision and the like and I think maybe some of the general public doesn't know frequently their restrictions on what weapons they can carry with them when they're in a jail.
IVEYSometimes they feel like they have to make some kind of an uneasy alliance or come to some sort of, for lack of a better term, working relationship with some of these gang members and leaders in the jail. And that looks like exactly what happened in Baltimore city.
NNAMDIWho controls our prisons? We're having a conversation about jailhouse racketeering inviting you to join it by calling 800-433-8850. What surprised you most about the story of sex and racketeering in the Baltimore Detention Center? 800-433-8850, you can send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet @kojoshow or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIBrenda Smith, after the Baltimore prison story broke a "Washington Post" columnist asked whether the female guards were predators or were they prey. Could these women be considered victims when they have inappropriate relationships with inmates?
SMITHWell, I think that's a complicated question because I think that legally they are not victims. In every jurisdiction in the country, and I found this somewhat interesting because I haven't heard about any indictments for staff sexual abuse of an inmate under custodial authority, for every state there are specific laws that make it a crime to have sex with someone who is in custody.
SMITHI haven't seen any evidence that those women will be prosecuted. I think that there are all kinds of, you know, nobody is cookie cutter and I think there are different kinds of motivations.
SMITHIn looking at the indictments it seemed that there were some women who were more vulnerable than others but it also seemed that there were a number of women who were quite willing participants, who competed with each other for the attentions of the male leader in this case and who benefited tremendously from that relationship. So I don't see them as predatory or prey but I see them as coconspirators in this particular enterprise.
NNAMDIMartin, what's the penalty for a guard who has sexual contact with a prisoner?
HORNIt varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In New York and Pennsylvania the two jurisdictions with which I am most familiar, it is a felony. I happen to note, looking through some of the articles concerning the Maryland situation, that I think in Maryland it's merely a misdemeanor.
HORNAnd also Maryland has a very robust corrections officers Bill of Rights that makes the investigation and prosecution of officers who engage in these behaviors difficult and I certainly think that in all cases it should be a felony, irrespective of whether they are victims or prey, it is wrong in every case.
HORNI think we have to understand that prisons are sexualized environments. We have to take the position that because of the authority relations that officers and other staff have that inmates should be deemed incapable of consent in these kinds of situations and treated as a serious offense.
NNAMDIJust two days ago there was an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Charles Lane who laid this scandal at the feet of the Correctional Officers Bill of Rights and the union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, that advocated for it and Gerald in Annapolis, Md. I guess has a question along that line also. Gerald, your turn.
NNAMDIHi, Gerald, are you there?
GERALDYes, just picking up. I am a little confused today because you've got the radio going with one program and you on another. But the question I have pertains to the fact that this a unionized group and so far we've heard nothing from the union leadership as to what their responsibility in this whole matter is and will they now have to come to the defense of these respective defendants and protect them from the consequences of the actions that they have committed?
NNAMDIGerald, I'm glad you brought that up because we got in touch with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. They weren't able to join us on the air but we talked with spokesperson, Jeff Pittman, and this is what he said, quoting here, "There's been some talk that the correctional officers' Bill of Rights made this happen."
NNAMDI"That is ludicrous. The Bill of Rights is not about protecting dirty CO's, correctional officers, it's about protecting the due process rights of the vast majority of our officers who do their job with integrity every day. These indictments are troubling but these are 13 individuals out of 7,500 correctional officers in the state of Maryland." Care to respond to that, Martin Horn?
HORNI'd like to say two things. Look, the union has an obligation to defend its members and I think we have to respect that. And we should not be surprised when they provide defense for their members. That's what unions do. I think there is, as I read it, no question in my mind that the Correctional Officers Bill of Rights, which the union pushed for, but which ultimately was enacted by the legislature and the governor, that there's some complicity there. There's no question that it makes investigating, disciplining and removing corrupt officers more difficult than it would otherwise be.
HORNSo I don't want to blame the union. And I think while I agree that this is -- may well only be 13 out of 7500, we don't know what we don't know.
HORNSo we really don't know how pervasive this is.
NNAMDII'd like to hear both you, Brenda Smith and Glenn Ivey, on this. Do prison guards have undue protection from being held accountable?
IVEYYou know, look, I prosecuted corrections officers and police officers. I can't say union rights got in the way of our ability to do that. The challenges you face in prosecuting prison scenarios is your witnesses frequently are other prisoners. And so from the standpoint of presenting this at trial, yeah, these aren't guys out of central casting. You know, these are guys with, you know, in some instances murder convictions, rape convictions and the like. So there's a credibility challenge.
IVEYYou know, if you look at the RICO charge here that the U.S. attorney's office brought, it looks like a lot of this revolves around wiretap information. So from the standpoint of building a case where you have witnesses who might not be credible but you've got wiretaps, it bolsters the ability to do that. Frankly, a lot of state and local offices don't have that capability and that's why the feds frequently have to leave these type of prosecutions.
SMITHI agree with both Marty and Glenn. I don't think the union is the issue. I mean, in these situations typically the union's going to be present. They're going to offer representation. But in my experience, what often happens is that there's been a lack of oversight and a lack of documentation which then makes it very difficult to discipline or terminate individuals. And in particular, if you haven't been consistent about your discipline with one, it's very hard to discipline another individual.
SMITHAnd, you know, basically what I see -- and Marty's point is actually quite correct -- is that we're talking about 13 correctional staff here. But obviously there were so many other people who knew and who turned a blind eye. Most recently we've seen the head of security have to lose her job, but there were all of those midlevel managers. There were also all kinds of other people who obviously knew what was going on and didn't trouble trouble.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call when we come back. If you find the lines are busy, you can go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation about jailhouse racketeering and who controls our prisons with Martin Horn. He is a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He's former commissioner of corrections for the city of New York and former secretary of corrections for the state of Pennsylvania. Brenda Smith is a professor at the Washington College of Law here at American University. Her work examines sexual violence and custody and issues involving female correctional officers. Brenda Smith is a member of the former National Prison Rape Commission.
NNAMDIAnd Glenn Ivey is former state's attorney in Prince George's County, Md. He's a former U.S. attorney here in Washington, D.C. He's currently an attorney at Leftwich and Ludaway. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Martin Horn, how difficult is it for a guard or a visitor to smuggle drugs or phones into a jail? Doesn't everyone have to go through a metal detector or some kind of screening before they get inside?
HORNIt varies by jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions the prisoner jail is sealed up pretty tight. Everyone -- for example, in New York, even the governor when he comes to visit a prison must divest himself of his cell phone and go through a metal detector. In Pennsylvania, as the commissioner, I had to go through the metal detector myself as the secretary of corrections.
HORNThe problem becomes one of -- when the administrative superiors aren't watching. So the people who are coming on watch, say for an 11:00 shift, the people that we're asking to supervise their entrance to run them through the metal detectors, through x-ray machines, perhaps to frisk them are their colleagues, their friends, often their relatives, their co-workers. And is there a laxity? Sure. Is there connivance? Absolutely.
HORNAnd in addition, there are two other constraints that you have to bear in mind. The first is that depending on the -- I hate to get back to this union issue, but the collective bargaining agreements that are in place in some jurisdictions. And I don't know what the situation was in Maryland. There are restrictions on how extensively you can search a staff member coming into the jail.
HORNAnd the second is just that it is time consuming. We considered in New York City, for example, at one time increasing the -- if you will, the robustness with which we searched officers coming on shift. And we realize that it would have delayed their entry into the jail by as much of an -- as an hour. And that would've been time that we would've had to pay them for. So there are cost constraints, there are operational constraints.
HORNAnd it's -- as I said earlier, it's part of the cost of running a well-functioning prison or jail system. If society is not prepared to bear that cost then society has to reconsider its decisions about the number of people it keeps confined. If we're determined to keep locked up the numbers of people that we do, then we have to be prepared to invest the money, the resources, the technology to have supervisors who are responsible for supervising the searches of officers.
HORNAnd keep in mind, it's not just officers. Contraband comes in through a variety of ways. And because we have created within the prisons a world of artificial scarcity, things like cell phones, drugs and indeed sex, become much more valuable.
HORNCigarettes. They become much more valuable than they would otherwise be. And it's sort of a weird counterintuitive thing but smuggling a cell phone or cigarettes or cash into a prison or jail is much less risky than smuggling drugs. If you have drugs on your person on route to work, you're committing a crime. But if you have a cell phone on your person, you haven't committed a crime until you've turned it over to an inmate inside the jail.
HORNSo there's much less risk and the value of these items to the inmates has become so great that the temptation for officers to compromise their integrity is greater than it once was.
NNAMDIBrenda Smith, you heard Marty mentioned that one form of currency in a jailhouse economy is sex. In this case, four women became pregnant by one inmate. And there was apparently a price list on some wall detailing what sex would buy. Does that surprise you?
SMITHNo. It really doesn't. And I think that, as Marty said, we have created this economy. And what you're talking about is you're talking about people who are in an institutional environment. They often don't have support from home. They don't have people who are putting money in a commissary account. And there are no opportunities to make money often in a custodial environment.
SMITHAnd so what -- the currency that they have is what they have on their person, which is their body and what they can do with it. I've actually seen these menus or price lists for particular kinds of sexual -- you know, sex in exchange for this or sex in exchange for that in a number of different settings. And in this situation, you had cell phones, but I've seen sex in exchange for food, sex in exchange for a phone call, things like that. So no, it doesn't surprise me at all.
NNAMDIGlenn Ivey, in Maryland lawmakers have repeatedly refused to stiffen the penalties for smuggling cell phones into prisons, something that correction officers want. How have cell phones made it easier for gangs to operate inside prisons? And is there a way to keep them out?
IVEYGreat question. Yeah, I think the challenge is that once they get in they really connect prisoners to the outside world in a way that they -- you know, prisoners didn't have prior to these technological advances. And it allows inmates to continue to run enterprises out on the street in some instances. We were talking about Rayful Edmond's doing that briefly while he was in jail before he was caught doing that as well. And we know that there are other groups, MS13, Bloods, Crips, whoever who have, you know, gang leaders who are in jail but who continue to send orders out sometimes by cell phone.
IVEYI don't know that you can stop the smuggling of cell phones. I think increasing penalties or putting penalties in places is a big step in the right direction. One of the things that I had suggested that, I don't know if there's a technological way to do it, but try jamming some of the prisons. I mean, just riding up and down or walking around in the neighborhood with my cell phone, I get the zones, you know. You wonder why they get such good service for the prisons.
IVEYBut I think they're going to have to look at technological efforts to do that. Another instance here was they were using technology for some of the currency exchanges that they were doing.
IVEYWhich is something I hadn't thought of but, you know, as the technology evolves these inmates are going to continue to advance with it. And we have to try and keep track.
HORNKojo, can I add to that for a moment?
NNAMDIPlease, go ahead.
HORNIn fact, there have been demonstrations of jamming exercises. There have been requests. I believe Secretary Maynard in Maryland has asked for it. I know that authorities in South Carolina and Texas and elsewhere and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have asked for it. the FCC prohibits the jamming of cell phones. And many of us believe that that is because of very strenuous opposition from the cellular wireless industry. But the technology does exist to, in effect, put a cone over a prison or jail that would block the use of cell phones.
HORNAnd Glenn is exactly right. The introduction of cell phones and Smartphones into prisons has changed the very purpose of imprisonment, which was incapacitation and isolation. And it totally defeats that. It allows inmates to intimidate witnesses. It allows them to intimidate the families of officers, to gain personal information about staff in ways that they were never able to before.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number. Who do you think should be held accountable for the culture of gangs and racketeering inside the Baltimore city jail, 800-433-8850? Here is Steven in Baltimore, Md. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENHi, Kojo. And hi to your guests. I know a good amount of correctional officers that work at that jail, as well as the other prison in Baltimore. And many of them have informed me that a lot of these young ladies knew the inmates from the neighborhood even before they got the jobs, and were encouraged to get the jobs. And as well, if your guests could just comment on the differences between a prison versus a jail, because my understanding was that the gentleman that was charged for running the...
NNAMDIHe was awaiting trial.
STEVENYes, and that he was not supposed to be in the jail system for that long.
NNAMDIOkay. First I'll have Brenda Smith address the question of people from the neighborhood, so to speak, in Baltimore, knowing some of the inmates beforehand and getting jobs at the -- with the encouragement of inmates.
SMITHYou know, I think that that's also -- I think that that certainly could have happened in this instance. But as I said before, you're talking about a very small neighborhood. You're talking about a local economy. If somebody's going to work at the Baltimore city detention center, you know, they're probably not going to move from California to do it. So you're recruiting in the same area.
SMITHYou're also recruiting people who can do two things. One -- three things -- they've got a high school diploma or some equivalent. They can pass the drug tests and they can pass a background check. And because of women's profile, in terms of their involvement in both drugs and criminal activity, they could do that. It stands to reason. I know, for example, in New York there was actually a great article a couple of years ago by an author called Brooke Hauser, that talked about New York City Department of Corrections where now 55 percent of the correctional officers are female and 75 percent of them are African-American.
SMITHAnd if you talk about mass incarceration in this country, it falls much more heavily on people of color. And I think that that's the truth in Baltimore as well. So I think that you have sort of a really interesting mix of sort of overlapping relationships, both known and unknown and affinities known and unknown. And I think that's where it's really important to have really good training, mentoring and surveillance, frankly, of the people who are doing supervision. And it looks like that wasn't done.
NNAMDIGlenn Ivey, our caller wanted to know the difference between a prison and a jail. In this case the individual, Tavon White, who is alleged to have impregnated some four guards, had been awaiting trial for quite a long time.
IVEYYeah, jails are supposed to be, you know, relatively temporary facilities or for people who are serving short periods of time. I guess it varies where you are, 12 months, maybe 18 months, something like that. And he was in this jail because he was pending trial and he hadn't been sentenced yet. So -- and prisons would be places where you would go for long term service of your sentence, say -- I don't know -- a 10-year, 15-year sentence, you'd go to a prison.
NNAMDIMartin Horn, Tavon White was allegedly captured on a cell phone indicating that nothing went in and out of that jail without his knowledge and permission. Most of us think the guards run the jail, that they're the ones in control, but maybe that's not always the case. And Glenn Ivey had started talking about that earlier. Can you talk about it some more? What are some of the ways inmates gain leverage over their guards?
HORNWell, it happens in a lot of ways and the reality is there are really only two choices. Either the state runs the jail or the prison or the inmates run it. There's nothing in between. And I think that the power of inmates increases as the state reduces its presence in the jail. So let me give you an example. In New York City -- and I suspect this is true elsewhere, including in Baltimore -- officers typically supervise inmates in large open dormitories.
HORNOne of the things that has happened in corrections over the years is that unlike the public perception of prisoners being in cells, most inmates live in open dormitories. In New York City the dormitories housed 50 adult men. These were men who didn't want to be there. These were men who had demonstrated or allegedly demonstrated a willingness to break the rules. Twenty percent of them were mentally ill. A large number of them were addicted and craving drugs.
HORNAnd often one officer was asked to supervise these 50 inmates. You know, I've been in one of these dormitories at 2:00 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning. And in the dark when there are 50 inmates and only that one officer, that's a pretty scary place. So I think that an officer, when he confronts a situation, two inmates doing something they're not supposed to do, makes a decision whether to intervene or whether to turn his back and walk the other way.
HORNAnd once he walks away the inmates own him or, as I said earlier, he or she enters into this devil's bargain with the inmates. You won't hurt me and I'll let you run your scams. Once this takes hold it grows. And the other thing that happens is that we cut back on the number of supervisors. One of the things I haven't heard about -- and this is one of the things that astonishes me about this case -- where were the sergeants? Where were the lieutenants? Where were the middle managers? How could they not have known?
HORNThis involved four different women allegedly competing for the affections of this one guy. People talk. There are no secrets in jail. There are no secrets in prison. People knew. So either the place was so thinly staffed or there was a tremendous breakdown of integrity. And I think that when we, the public, when our government short staffs prisons, decreases the amount of training, decreases the level of supervision, decreases the surveillances Brenda said, they take a message that if the state doesn't care, why should I care more than the state?
HORNAnd what I find so interesting is the only time we have these conversations on the air in the media is when something like this happens. The rest of the time we blithely go about our business and ignore what goes on in our prisons and jails.
IVEYJust along those lines, I would take it even further. I think a lot of times the public, not only do they care about it, but they want it to be bad. Their view is that if you go to prison, it should be a horrible experience. They hate the fact that these guys have cable, that they can work out with the weights and, you know, come out looking better then when they went in. They hate three hots and a cot. They want -- they want sexual assault in jail. I mean, if you listen to nightly monologues, you know, somebody goes to jail, the joke about people getting raped when they go into jail is almost obligatory at this point.
IVEYSo -- and the public seems to like that. What seems to have got under their skin here, is that the corrections officers, in their view, took an extra step with the impregnation piece.
NNAMDIEspecially, and Brenda Smith, I was going to ask you anyway, and you were about to respond, but same question that Martin dealt with, and that is how could the warden or the state secretary of public safety and corrections not know this was taking place? There are women getting pregnant, they're having babies, they've got tattoos on their necks about -- with the name of an inmate.
SMITHYou know, I wasn't there, but I have to say, I find it incredible and uncredible that folks did not know. I think a lot of people knew. I think that it, as Marty said, it was a deal that people made in order to be able to come to the job and collect their checks. One of the things that I haven't heard us talk about, but what we are really talking about explicitly is really this whole code of silence, right?
SMITHAnd we know from a lot of research that when you talk to people who work at institutional settings, they have greater loyalty to the institution than they do to see these broader principles of integrity and transparency and things like that. I'm sure that both inmates and staff feared retaliation and what that says is that there really were no sanctions.
NNAMDIA conspiracy of silence.
SMITHAbsolutely. And I will have to -- I will say to you that, you know, I have a number of students who actually have worked in the Baltimore City Detention, and I knew about this behavior before the indictments were ever released. My students who were going in there working talked about the female correctional workers, and what they perceived as these relationships. I think that really in terms of what has sort of captured people's imaginations or interests this way is sort of female staff. I mean, we are really expecting them to be better than the men.
SMITHI think one of the things that we haven't done, and I sort of think about it is if we flip this, and we were talking about male staff, I don't think that you would have the amount of interest that you would have than you have right now.
NNAMDIHold that thought for a second because Jessica in Columbia, Md. would like to address it. Jessica, your turn.
JESSICAHello, Kojo, and thank you for taking my call. I just had a comment to make about wanting to make sure that we're -- there's an understanding that these women were preyed upon as well. And of course they're not blameless, I mean, they committed crimes, but it's been well documented that they were targeted -- specifically targeted by these inmates, and there was even a written manual explaining to new inmates, you know, which ones to go after, the ones that obviously had low self esteem, self confidence issues, ones that would be easily malleable for these men, and very easily coerced. And I hope that the court will take that into account when, you know, I mean, it was a two-way street of prey.
NNAMDIWell, let me have Brenda Smith comment on that.
SMITHYou know, again, Jessica, I understand exactly what you're saying. I totally hear you there, but that manual about how to co-opt, I mean, I think that there's a training that all correctional officers get which is called The Games Cons Play. And I actually think that that's part of the problem because people don't show up as -- in the way that you think they're going to show up. Often they show up as very attractive, really smart, having lots of redeeming characteristics, and so there's some cognitive dissonance there in terms of what you learned about them, and actually how they are able to be helpful to you while you're in the institution.
SMITHI think certainly the court should take into consideration sort of these women's profile, but I think that they should take that into consideration with anybody whether they're male or female. You know, having low self esteem, or being able to be corrupted is not gendered, and everybody has access to the same kind of information.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Keith in Silver Spring who says, "No excuses. These guards abused the public trust, and were coconspirators. They made their choices. Now it's time to deal with them and hold them accountable." Got to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. If you've called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to email@example.com. We're talking about jailhouse racketeering, who controls our prisons? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about jailhouse racketeering with Glenn Ivey, former state's attorney in Prince George's County, Maryland, former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington and now an attorney at Leftwich and Ludaway. Martin Horn is distinguished lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He's former commissioner of corrections for the City of New York, former secretary of corrections for the state of Pennsylvania. And Brenda Smith is a professor in the Washington College of Law at American University. Her work examines sexual violence in custody and issues involving female correctional workers.
NNAMDIShe's a member of the former National Prison Rape Commission. Glenn Ivey, the Baltimore indictments followed a long investigation. How long does it take to collect enough evidence to convict someone of jailhouse racketeering?
IVEYWell, it can take quite a while. And, you know, I think if you thumb through this, it's clear that they were doing this investigation for quite some time, you know, well back into 2012 for sure. And, you know, RICO cases are challenging to start with because they're so far reaching and they're very challenging to prove at trial. So I think they put a lot of time and effort, but I think the key was the wire taps and the resources they put in to bring the case together.
NNAMDIWe got a...
HORNKojo, could I -- could I tie that to...
HORN...your earlier question and the discussion about what Secretary Maynard knew or should have known. And I've had this experience as well. When I was in Pennsylvania, literally the day I arrived I was told that at one of my large maximum security prisons near Philadelphia, there was a very similar problem. There was a group there called the Junior Black Mafia. They allegedly controlled the prison. There were allegations that they were smuggling prostitutes in, that drugs were getting in, that disciplinary infractions and positive urinalyses were being thrown in the trash by staff in exchange for money.
HORNI was told that the Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI were investigating it. I met with the United States Attorney in Philadelphia, and I was prepared to sack the warden. I was prepared to turn that place over, and I was asked by the prosecutors to layoff, to hold back, because they had this very complex investigation going. And months and months went by, and they could not bring the investigation to a head until finally one day after an inmate overdosed and died in his cell with a needle in his arm, I said to hell with them, and I went in and searched that prison from top to bottom and discharged some of the top staff, and transferred out many of the inmates who were gang leaders. And five years later they still never brought a single indictment.
HORNNow, in this case, they were able to bring indictments, and I think we have to allow for the possibility that at the highest levels of the Maryland Department of Public Safety, they were cooperating with and...
NNAMDIIndeed. Allow me to read this -- allow me to read what we got from Rick Binetti from the director of communications for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. It reads, "The Maryland Department of"... well, you know, I said it already... "led the formation of the Maryland Prison Task Force that started in 2011, partnering with federal, state and local law enforcement stakeholders, it also asked the task force to focus on the Baltimore City Detention Center."
NNAMDIHe wrote in the email, "We knew any indictments would be painful, and would be viewed very negatively publicly, but it had to be done, and now we go about cleaning the place out."
HORNExactly. I think that's to their credit. The alternative would have been simply firing these officers or these officers would have been brought up on charges and resigned, and people would have said, well, why weren't they charged criminally. Well, you have to be able to make the case, and given the constraints that Glenn mentioned earlier, the difficulty of using inmates as witnesses, they needed to pursue they very complex RICO investigation using wire taps, using federal resources.
HORNAnd so I think before we jump to any conclusions about the responsibility of the top administration, I think we have to allow that they were working very closely with the United States Attorney and holding off on administrative action for some greater prosecutorial gain.
SMITHI actually -- I mean, I'm glad that Glenn addressed that. I was actually very concerned about this, and one of the I think problems -- things about the indictment that bothered me most was that the recounting of the sexual relationships with the different correctional workers -- female correctional workers, and the fact that they were impregnated inside of the Baltimore City Detention Center. And so what's happening is, is one of the collateral -- some of the collateral damage here, in addition to the staff is also the birth of probably -- I'm not sure, of at least a number of children as a result of that.
SMITHAnd I feel like that's a little bit -- not a little bit, I think that that's pretty problematic. The other thing that I also thought about, and I'd be interested in Glenn's or Marty's take on this, is you've talked about wire tap. Typically in order to get wire tap, they're not just kind of -- what do I want to say, in the walls. Somebody's wearing a wire, right? There can be stuff in different places, and so I think that one of the things that we also have to acknowledge is that somebody here may have actually been wearing a wire. Some of the people who are named here, or either some other people who were cooperating. Is that fair?
IVEYIt could have been wires, it could have been on the person, it could have been wires somewhere hidden in a cell. It looks like a lot of these were intercepted phone calls too, which are a lot of easier to tap without, you know, risking an informant. But yeah. I mean, ultimately it's a challenge to build a case that's big enough so you don't get piece male prosecutions for, you know, he brought cigarettes into the jail. Well, big deal.
IVEYBut, you know, when you have enough time to pull a big prosecution together and a RICO charge on top of it, then I think you can have prosecutions that have that kind of impact. The tradeoff though is, you know, you spend two years or something put this together, what kinds of bad things are happening in the interim?
NNAMDII was about to ask Marty about that. Is there tension between corrections officials and prosecutors about whose interest takes precedence when they're...
NNAMDIYeah. I mean, their investigation...
HORNAbsolutely there is tension. I certainly had that experience in Pennsylvania as well as in New York.
NNAMDIYou got to say how long is this investigation going to take? We've got to try to deal with some of these problems here.
HORNAnd once you're into the investigation, look, people -- people in my position tend to give great deference to the prosecutor. You don't want to read in the paper that the U.S. Attorney or the State's Attorney accused you of undermining their investigation. That's a terrible thing for a corrections...
NNAMDIGlenn seems to have had experience -- Glenn seems to have had experience with this.
IVEYYeah. I mean, you want to make sure you don't, you know, get in the middle of a fight like that politically I think for sure, whether you're the prosecutor or the administrator. And at the end of the day it ends up destroying the overall effort which is to clean the place up anyway.
NNAMDIHere's Marjorie in Alexandria, Va. Marjorie, your turn.
MARJORIEHi, Kojo. How are you?
MARJORIEGood. I was calling in response to the discussion about contraband wireless devices in prison.
MARJORIEAnd it's true. The FCC doesn't approve jamming anywhere because there's a federal law against it. But last week, May 1, it issued a notice of proposed rulemaking considering adopting new rules about what they call managed access, and about a detecting method that allows a warden or prison officials to go through the prison and detect where the wireless devices are, or that they are there. And there is equipment that allows them to identify the device sufficiently to identify for the carrier what phone it is so that it may turn it off.
MARJORIENow, there -- of course, there will be processes for that, but they'll be quick, at least as far as this rule making proceeding sets up so that the prison officials don't have to go ferret out the device and risk life and limb to pull up somebody's cot and find the cell phone under the bed. Rather, they can just notify the carrier and say shut this one off, and then that way they can get control without jamming, and without having to physically find the device.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about that, Brenda Smith?
SMITHYou know, that what? I actually think that's a great idea, but I'm a little concerned also about sort of this cone of silence over a correctional facility because the fact is, is that there are legitimate uses that staff may need to have and how can you -- it seems like that proposal would allow you to sort of target which phones you would jam.
SMITHThe other thing that I will think is interesting to note, is that one of the sort of unintended sort of benefits, and I would say it's a benefit because I'm also concerned not only in incapacitation but rehabilitation in institutional settings is that inmates have been using cell phones to communicate with the outside about the conditions on the inside. And I don't know if anybody saw it, but there was -- there have been Yelp critiques of different institutional settings, and talking about what's going on in various prisons and jails, and I think that from the perspective of sort of shining some light inside that that's also one way that cell phones could be useful.
NNAMDISomething that will have to be resolved in the future, but thank you for your call, Marjorie. We're just about out of time. Brenda Smith is a professor at the Washington College of Law at American University. Brenda Smith, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIGlenn Ivey is former state's attorney in Prince George's County, Maryland and former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington D.C. He's an attorney at Leftwich and Ludaway. Glenn, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIMartin Horn is a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former commissioner of corrections for the City of New York. Martin Horn, thank you for joining us.
HORNYou're quite welcome.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Mullah Mohammad Omar, the longtime head of the Taliban in Afghanistan, was confirmed dead last week. A new leader has taken his place, but questions remain about how the transition in leadership will affect the Taliban's position and strategy, as well as peace talks with the Afghan government that began in July. We explore what may change for Afghanistan now that new leadership is in charge of the Taliban.
Chrysler recalls cars to boost their cybersecurity. Microsoft debuts its new Windows 10 operating system. And navigation tech could bring us robotic lawn mowers. The Computer Guys and Gal explain.
The world's waterways are important thoroughfares for commerce and international trade. But they're also places where crime and violence occur at alarming rates, often in areas where it's difficult to seek justice under international law. Kojo chats with New York Times reporter Ian Urbina, whose recent series documented human rights and environmental abuses at sea, including a murder that went unreported despite dozens of witnesses.