Guest Commentary: Confidential Information

By John Mendoza

This memo was prepared in regards to the use / misuse of confidential information against incarcerated people. When dealing with this topic there are very few “pros” to report and a tremendous amount of “cons.”

The “pro” can only be defensible depending on one’s agenda. If one’s itinerary consists of using hearsay as evidence to further deny any inmate their liberty interests, to validate them into a gang membership or place them in an administrative segregation, the use of confidential information has been their allies. Which is what we, American citizens, have been allowing to happen for far too long. The “cons” to this topic are innumerable.

First it must be noted that just because a human dons a uniform and takes an oath, this does not render them infallible and incapable of fabricating confidential information, which is recently being proven. The law firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, the heroes that championed Ashker v. Governor of California class action lawsuit, are currently compiling a prodigious amount of proof in this matter against CDCR’s Institution Gang Investigators (IGI) and Office of Correctional Safety (OCS). Correctional officers in fact have a vested interest in incarcerated human beings which raises the risk of misrepresenting statements made by inmates. The higher the populace of inmates the more officers that are needed at the institutions, securing each officer’s employment. This should never be permissible to be a factor in our justice system. The simple possibility that documents can be fabricated is enough to consider the use of this information unlawful.

Secondly, information is obtained from inmates in a variety of ways. However, when an inmate no longer desires to be on a general population yard, a venue officers used to procure information is to barter an inmate’s guaranteed safety in exchange for information about others. If the inmate does not have information, the officers often threaten the inmate with the fear of returning him back to the general population yard to be victimized, thus coercing information from the inmate. This system alone guarantees that not all information will be factual.

Thirdly, information that has been received that has been corroborated by another source is often information that is based on the inmate’s past, character, associations, or previous secured housing unit (SHU) assignment. Some of these things cause inmates to form subjective opinions about each other. This is not to argue that all corroborated information is false, however the fact that these components could influence people’s perceptions prove the information could be false. “Could be” is enough to restrict this information to investigative purposes ONLY.

Fourthly, and near the peak of important, inmates are NEVER provided any notice of information that is detrimental to them until it’s about to be used against them (such as in a parole hearing or gang validation) and NEVER given the opportunity to confront their accusers or provide evidence to deem informant unreliable. When a liberty interest (such as in a parole hearing) is at stake, why then are these humans not being guaranteed their constitutional right to confront their accusers? This is unlawful and unconstitutional on its face.

Fifthly, officers are, and have been, using information from informants that have been previously discovered to be unreliable, but because the information from an unreliable source corroborates information from another source and they use both informants to build a corroboration. Officers spend copious amounts of time attempting to validate information against inmates, but no time debunking it when an informant has become unreliable. The agenda has become very clear.

Sixthly, if and when inmates provide information against staff they give it no credibility. If a group of five inmates file a grievance of staff misconduct the response will be, “Staff did not violate policy.”  Why then is the double standard of concreteness when inmates provide information against other inmates?

Seventhly, an inmate can deem himself reliable by giving up negative information about himself. The institution subsequently validates anything he says thereafter as factual. In the past an inmate buried a knife on a recreation yard and then turned himself into correctional staff “in fear for his safety.”  During his debriefing process he provided the location of the knife alleging other inmates placed it there. Officers went and recovered the weapon thus rendering him a reliable informant by prison officials. Anything he said after that was deemed true.

Eighthly, most inmate credibility is impeached after they debrief, as almost all informants sign a paper agreeing that if they go to the SNY yard they will not participate in further gang activity. Which would make anyone knowledgeable of the prison system and a reasonable mind question how there are now approximately 25 new prison gangs on Special Needs Yards (SNY).  The answer is found in the fact that these individuals who signed these papers were not “men of their words,” however we never hear about this aspect from corrections because it’s too damaging to the credibility of the informant. The corrections department does not follow up on or keep track of which informants have reneged on their SNY agreement and still use their words against others as factual. Factual, even though their further gang activities correlate unreliability. This system is very skewed.

Ninthly, confidential information has become an issue for the transgender and homosexual communities inside institutions as well. Homophobic inmates, as well as inmates that have been denied sexual favors, will give false information about these individuals simply to damage their credibility thus resulting in parole denials.

Finally, in this day and age it has become overwhelmingly obvious through social media that some individuals love to slander others that they don’t identify with, agree with, relate to, or simply just don’t like.  There are many more flawed aspects to this subject, however, the bottom line is we have been allowing something that someone says (subjectivity) about another without any actual evidence (objectivity), costing human beings their freedom and placing unwarranted harm on them. It is unconstitutional and IT MUST STOP NOW!  Please help put an end to this failed system.

John Mendoza is incarcerated at CSP Solano in Vacaville

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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