AP Photo/WIlfredo Lee
Inmates stand in line under the watchful eye of a corrections officer as they wait to eat lunch at the Hendry Correctional Institution Wednesday, April 11, 2007, in Immokalee, Fla.
A shocking indictment of 13 Baltimore prison guards last week is an extreme example of what happens when people on the "lowest rung" of the criminal justice career ladder succumb to corruption.
The Baltimore case is the most disturbing case of prison guard corruption in recent memory. Guards allegedly snuck cellphones and other contraband to Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gangsters and gave them free rein over their own prison. BGF leader Tavon White also managed to impregnate four guards, two of whom got tattoos with his name.
While most guards aren't in bed with inmates, they do face tough and dangerous jobs with little compensation, recognition, or hope for advancement. P oor pay and low hiring standards in America's prisons make guards more susceptible to corruption than others in the justice system, experts told Business Insider.
Guards make significantly less money than police officers and generally have significantly less training. (In Maryland, where the BGF thrives, corrections officers get six weeks of training compared to six months for police.) Many go into corrections as a last resort.
"It's been referred to as the bottom rung in the career ladder in criminal justice. This is considered dirty work," criminal justice professor Chris Menton tells us.
"The people who end up in these jobs are people who couldn't get a job as a police officer, couldn't get through law school, couldn't get a job as a federal agent," adds Menton, who actually worked as a corrections officer himself because he couldn't find work after college.
Once they get into this line of work, corrections officers get little recognition — unlike police officers, who are out on the street and dealing with the public every day.
"Corrections in general is the ugly stepchild of the justice system," says Bruce Bayley, a criminal justice professor at Weber State University and former correctional officer. "Out of sight out of mind."
It's not surprising that unsophisticated workers who aren't respected might take bribes.
Corrections officers have also been indicted for allegedly taking bribes in Washington D.C., Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and Maryland, to name a few places. In February, 17 former corrections officers were indicted in Texas for bringing contraband to inmates to help them commit crimes from behind prison walls.
One of those corrections officers in Texas, 38-year-old Jaime Jorge Garza, reportedly told a court that he got pushed around a lot as a guard and that he was glad he finally got caught smuggling contraband.
Most of America's prison guards are unarmed, and they are more outnumbered than ever because of state budget shortages.
"Every state and municipality in the country has cut its officer staffing," criminal justice expert Martin Horn told us. "I firmly believe that the result is officers are terrified. One way of keeping themselves safe is aligning with the inmates."
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