Skip to comments.Investigators probe Calif. prison system's use of inmates to keep order ("peacekeepers")
Posted on 01/22/2006 11:07:26 AM PST by NormsRevenge
SACRAMENTO (AP) - The California prison system's use of some of its toughest, most feared inmates to help keep order behind bars led to the slaying of a guard, state investigators say. And the FBI is looking into whether the practice contributed to a second killing.
Although the practice is banned in some states, California's top corrections official defends the limited use of "peacekeepers." These influential inmates are entrusted to help the staff, smooth racial tension and in some cases control fellow prisoners. Critics worry the freedom accorded peacekeepers lets them run drugs, order inmate assaults and commit other crimes. Now the practice has come under scrutiny following two California slayings in which high-ranking gang members serving as peacemakers are alleged to have played a role.
Last January, a peacekeeper who had been released from his cell to mediate following a race riot stabbed a guard to death in Chino, said Brett Morgan, chief deputy for the prison system's inspector general.
Just weeks before, a peacekeeper at a Sacramento-area prison allegedly ordered an assault that ended with a guard killing an inmate, according to confidential Corrections Department reports obtained by The Associated Press.
The peacekeeper in that case had a long history of alleged crimes behind bars, the reports show. But state investigators suspect his peacekeeper status gave him access to the yard when the killing occurred, according to a prison official familiar with the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak publicly.
Federal prosecutors have asked the FBI to look into both killings and whether the inmates' peacekeeper status contributed to them, U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Patty Pontello said. The prison system is conducting its own investigation of the Sacramento death, and the warden said he is trying to rein in peacekeepers.
In an interview, California's corrections chief acknowledged prison officials use peacekeepers to pass messages and get feedback, likening the practice to street cops' use of informants. He also conceded the practice has its hazards.
"There's a role there for peacekeepers," said Roderick Q. Hickman, a 25-year corrections veteran. "The problem becomes when people make errors in those processes."
With about 168,000 inmates, California's prison system is the nation's largest and has suffered several recent scandals. Poor medical care and living conditions prompted a federal takeover of health services. To restore public and employee confidence, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is reorganizing how prisons are run and has installed Hickman to help him do it.
Peacekeeping is neither new nor unique to California. For decades, "trusties," or trusted inmates, have helped manage prison work gangs.
But forms of peacekeeping are outlawed in Mississippi, Alabama and other states, said Steve J. Martin, a corrections consultant and former leader within Texas' prison system. In Texas, the practice led to assaults and other crimes before being shut down in the 1980s following a lawsuit.
"Reputable corrections people agree it is a very bad idea for prisoners to have influence over others," said David Fathi, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project.
California law prohibits inmates from having "control over" one another. In practice, however, policies can differ from prison to prison and guard to guard. Some peacekeepers are established presences, others are temporary. The ways they're selected and the officials who pick them vary, and their number isn't clear.
Some officers interviewed for this story said inmates must have a role, though it can be a devil's bargain.
"Are inmates part of a fix? Absolutely," said Chuck Alexander, vice president of California's prison guards union. "But to send an inmate out as a quasi-United Nations representative? Who's controlling that? Who's running the damn place when you're using peacekeepers?"
State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, who heads two corrections oversight committees, said realists recognize the need for some sort of intermediary between guards and prisoners.
"It's a delicate balance," said Romero, D-Los Angeles.
The danger was underscored on Jan. 10, 2005, when a guard at the prison in Chino turned to maximum-security inmate Jon Christopher Blaylock - a Crips gang member serving 75 years for trying to kill a police officer - to help prepare inmates to mix again following a race riot, according to the inspector general. Freed from his cell, Blaylock stabbed guard Manuel Gonzalez in the heart, the inspector general said.
Blaylock should never have been allowed out, according to investigators. Following the stabbing, the warden and her two top assistants were removed.
When the inspector general's report was released in March, corrections chief Hickman said officers weren't deliberately negligent but said staff tried "to cut corners."
Just weeks before, James "Boots" Tigar - a 31-year-old convicted murderer, white supremacist and peacekeeper - allegedly ordered a subordinate to stab a fellow inmate at the high-security prison at Sacramento, according to reports obtained by the AP.
The assailant, Wade Arthur Shiflett, hesitated when a guard fired a warning shot, but renewed his attack after Tigar shouted, "Hit him again," according to prison documents obtained by the AP. This time, the guard shot Shiflett dead.
Tigar, who has a swastika tattooed on his chin, then ordered another inmate to kill the guard, Sam Bess, as the officer descended from a guard tower, according to the documents.
"I want you to mop him," Tigar told the prisoner, an inmate witness told investigators according to confidential prison reports.
The prisoner refused - so Tigar allegedly ordered him assaulted as well. That inmate was later granted protective custody and Tigar was eventually moved to Pelican Bay State Prison after audio surveillance of his cell discovered he was planning more retaliation.
Tigar was familiar to guards as the elected chairman of a group that serves as a liaison between inmates and management, a position that afforded him broad access throughout the prison.
According to the confidential prison reports, Tigar led the Men's Advisory Council Executive Body even though he was accused more than 40 times of ordering and carrying out assaults, selling drugs, ferrying weapons or fomenting race riots, among other things.
Warden Scott Kernan said in a prison interview that he was aware of Tigar's "influence over other inmates," but that reports implicating him weren't adequately confirmed and that inmates often have that many reports of wrongdoing.
Still, Kernan took "full responsibility for not locking him up."
In April - five months after the Nov. 30, 2004, killing - Kernan warned staff against using inmate intermediaries unless specifically authorized.
"Inmates will not be used to walk the tiers and communicate staff expectations to other inmates," he wrote. "Inmates are using, or could use, this unauthorized access to move weapons and other contraband, involve themselves in assaults on inmates or staff, and jeopardize the security of the prison."
Graphic ranks most violent prison units in California. (AP Graphic)
article also on apwire as
Investigators Probe Calif. Prison System
"Tigar was familiar to guards as the elected chairman of a group that serves as a liaison between inmates and management, a position that afforded him broad access throughout the prison."
What an interesting way to say "head of the biggest gang."
Couldn't be bothered to waste time reading past the third sentence. Good grief, even the lowliest toilet scrubber can get drugs in, order inmate assaults and commit any other crime he/she wishes.
Penalogists have recognized for centuries that successful institutions rely on self discipline to control the behavior of inmate populations. That goal is usually achieved by rewarding expected behavior. To substitute a system that utilizes domestic intimidation is risky as evidenced by the circumstances that prompted this article.
At one time in Cook Co. Il they were called barn bosses. In the old days the inmates were locked up at night in a barn. The toughest prisoners were left in charge of all the other prisoners without any supervision. A terrible system.
there is a reason the Feds do not have trusties...
these are the same fools who gave us the gladiators at Corcoran.
Arnold should clean house and start over
range boss, tier boss, house boss, house man
one leg, two leg.....referring to trustie stripes on pants leg outer inseam
very poor idea to have inmates with authority over other inmates
that is already an innate problem in incarceration...predators flourish