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Why you need security threat group intelligence in your jail

The thwarting of inmate plans for escape, drug trafficking, gang activity or assaults does not occur by chance

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The dramatic increase in inmates who have ties to security threat groups underscores the need for correctional facilities to engage in security threat group intelligence gathering.

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It’s no secret to any officer that drug cartels, gangs and other forms of organized crime are alive and well in many of our nation’s jails and prisons. The flourishing drug trade in the United States has sharply accelerated the growth of drug-related organized criminals and illicit groups in our communities. These security threat groups include the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, SUR13, Vatos Locos, Tiny Rascal Gang, Outlaw motorcycle clubs and many others.

A tremendous surge of violent activity by the drug cartels, coupled with sharply increased federal prosecutorial activity and similar initiatives by local correctional and law enforcement agencies, has resulted in the percentage of inmates serving sentences for drug-related offenses climbing at a staggering rate in the last 15 to 20 years.

In a 2012 survey analysis, the Bureau of Justice National Gang Center noted, “Following a marked decline from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, the prevalence rate of gang activity significantly increased between 2001 and 2005 and has since has continued to rise fairly constantly.”

In addition, we are now bracing ourselves for an increase in the incarceration of extremist groups, which should be considered just as dangerous as other security threat groups (STGs).

This “new” type of inmate often enters our jails and prisons with advanced technological skills in illicit communications, computers, security electronics, explosives fabrication, paramilitary tactics and automatic weaponry. Of even greater concern, particularly with the drug cartels, is the extraordinary level of outside tactical and logistical support these organizations have access to. Law enforcement leaders must now consider how to defend against the use of drones to introduce contraband into jails and prisons and how to prevent well-coordinated and resourced escape efforts.

The dramatic increase in inmates who have ties to security threat groups underscores the need for facilities to engage in security threat group intelligence gathering. Conducting routine STG intelligence operations has long been accepted as vital in both military operations and national security programs. Criminal intelligence units and gang task forces have also made major contributions to the effectiveness of law enforcement organizations.

Now, officials are learning that, in their rapidly changing correctional environment, strategic planning is of paramount value in forging a response to the security threats posed by inmates who are involved in gangs or other STGs. A critical element in planning for and managing these STGs is intelligence – the foreknowledge required to recognize the specific nature of the threat and the capacity to make informed decisions with regard to the institution’s security management.

Benefits of security threat group intelligence gathering

The thwarting of inmate plans for escape, drug trafficking, gang activity or assaults does not occur by chance. Security threat group intelligence operations help officers avoid these serious incidents.

There are four key benefits to an STG intelligence unit:

  1. Officer safety. STG intelligence operations have uncovered plots to injure or kill staff members.
  2. Crime prevention and solving. STG intelligence helps prevent violence and solve crimes against other inmates, the public and rival gangs. STG intelligence officers decode cryptic messages, read numerous inmate letters, and listen to countless hours of monitored and recorded inmate telephone conversations as a means of uncovering information critical to solving crimes committed within the walls of the correctional institution, as well as out in our communities. The sharing of STG intelligence also helps agencies with limited resources prioritize their enforcement activities to deal with trends or patterns of gang behavior.
  3. Development of information sources. An effective STG intelligence group will identify active STG members, develop confidential informants among those who want to leave the STG, and conduct interviews with inmates to obtain advance information on planned criminal and disruptive inmate activity.
  4. Identification of new training needs. By analyzing STG intelligence and identifying trends in inmate behavior, correctional leaders can reveal areas where staff may need additional training or resources.

A growing need

The need for a more effective response to the emerging security threats of this decade, together with the requirements for strategic planning, points to significant challenges for law enforcement leaders. Security threat group intelligence gathering, more than ever, is a critical element in the decision-making process and a successful future for our institutions.

NEXT: Intelligence gathering in jails and prisons: Mission & process


Christopher J. Munley has served as a deputy director of public safety for the Sandy Pines Recreational Community in Hopkins, Michigan, since 2019. He is a former U.S. Department of Justice-certified PREA auditor, providing PREA policy consultation, development and auditing services to adult prisons and jails, lockups and community confinement facilities.

In 1996, Christopher began working at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office in West Olive, Michigan, retiring as a sergeant and operations supervisor with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Correctional Facility in December 2018.

He is a military veteran who served a combined 13 years in the US Army, the US Army Reserves and the US National Guard. Christopher is a graduate of the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command, and a certified “gang expert” through the National Gang Crime Research Center in Chicago, Illinois. Christopher was the PREA coordinator for the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department in Michigan from 2005-2018 and has been instrumental in the development and implementation of the PREA standards for his agency. Christopher joined the Lexipol team as a content developer in December 2018.