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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 99412 Find in a Library
Title: Prison Guards and 'Snitches' - Deviance Within a Total Institution
Journal: British Journal of Criminology  Volume:25  Issue:3  Dated:(July 1985)  Pages:217-233
Author(s): J W Marquart; J B Roebuck
Date Published: 1985
Page Count: 17
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Annotation: This study of the organized network of inmate informants in a Texas maximum security institution profiles the informants and describes the 'snitch' recruitment process, the types of intelligence gathered, the informers' payment, and how this informant system helped maintain prison social order.
Abstract: Data were collected at the Johnson Unit, a maximum-security recidivist Texas prison housing nearly 3,200 inmates over age 25. Data were derived from field research conducted from June 1981 to January 1983. A researcher entered the prison as a guard, which enabled him to observe and analyze the prison social control system. Field techniques used included participant observation, key informants, formal and informal interviews, and the examination of prison records. The official informers, called building tenders (BT's) and turnkeys, openly worked for and cooperated with the staff. The BT's, rather than being outcasts within the inmate population, were the older, aggressive, criminally sophisticated inmates. The BT's cultivated additional snitches, and the staff placed these snitches in jobs throughout the prison, permitting constant scrutiny of inmate behavior as well as that of lower ranking guards. This facilitated proactive staff control that often prevented violence, disorder, and escapes. The ordinary inmates lacked the power and cohesiveness to undermine BT's. Rather, unruly inmates and incompetent lower ranking guards were those stigmatized within the prison subculture. In a civil suit (Ruiz v. Estelle, 1980), a Federal judge ruled the BT system unconstitutional and a violation of progressive penology. The BT system is now defunct throughout the Texas prison system. Since the passing of this system, violence in Texas prisons has escalated. Nineteen references are listed.
Index Term(s): Informants; Inmate staff relations; Inmates; Intelligence acquisition; Prison management; Texas
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