Techniques Used In Prisons Are Now Applied To All Of US

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10 Prison Security Techniques Being Implemented on the American People

Has our country become one giant correctional institution?

Americans are not typically aware of how their federal and state prison systems work. What we think we know, we learned from watching television. When I took my first walk through at FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) El Reno Oklahoma as a new employee, I was surprised at how non-Hollywood real prison life is. Frankly, all I knew about prison life was what I saw on television or at the movies. Not even close.

As I got closer to retiring from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP), it began to dawn on me that the security practices we used in the prison system were being implemented outside those walls. “Free worlders” is prison slang for the non-incarcerated who reside in the “free world.”  In this article I am going to compare a number of practices used in federal prisons to those being used today in the “free world.”

You might find that our country may be one giant correctional institution.

Cameras & Movement Tracking

Prison Camera by JoernHaufe, Getty images.

Prison Camera by JoernHaufe, Getty images.

In federal prisons, cameras are everywhere. The reason, of course, is to help maintain security and keep track of prisoners. Inmates know that if they break any rules or policies, they can be readily identified if the event occurred in view of a camera. The cameras remind the inmates that they do not have any freedom or privacy, and that they live under total control.

Unfortunately, the “free world” is now subject to the widespread use of video surveillance and movement tracking.  This goes beyond cameras, which have become virtually ubiquitous now.  The federal government has been handing out grants to create sophisticated surveillance grids in cities across the country.

These surveillance grids frequently include license plate readers — some with the ability to log 1,200 license plates per hour, logging timestamps and location data — giving the government a way to track people and analyze their movement patterns.  Some cities post license plate readers to log every single vehicle that enters or leaves its boundaries.   Many cities have turned their police cars into roving data collectors by outfitting them with mobile license plate scanners.   A man from California discovered that he had been photographed 112 times over the course of a couple years — from just one police cruiser mounted with a license plate scanner!  The local databases of movement data are integrated with the federal government through its fusion centers located all over the country.

The government also has the ability to use facial-recognition software in conjunction with its surveillance grid to instantly identify individuals by comparing their photograph to biometric databases created using BMV photographs.  Facial recognition cameras can be set up to accurately identify a person against a database of millions of images in less than one second.  The government can then potentially log their locations and using the data for any purpose it wants.

As the usage of these technologies grows, the “authorities” will practically know where you are at any time.  The British have the greatest level of electronic surveillance in the world.  Their movements are said to be recorded 3,000 times a week.   The United States is not that far behind.  In some ways, with the numerous NSA spying programs, the USA leads the world in destroying personal privacy.  Today’s youngest generation will grow up never knowing what privacy is.

Drug Testing

DrugTesting, Source Maritime Med

The federal prison inmate drug abuse monitoring program has been going on for decades since the capability was invented.  At any time, a prisoner can be tested for intoxicants using urine, sweat, saliva, and hair samples taken by force.  After years of perfecting the process on inmates, it was introduced to the American public.

On September 15, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12564, establishing the goal of a Drug-Free Federal Workplace. Additionally, in 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finalized a new rule that allows federal agencies to use sweat, saliva and hair in federal drug testing programs that only tested urine.  Since then, many private businesses and corporations had to begin testing their employees in order to keep or obtain federal contracts. Under federal guidelines for employee testing, if a person takes medicine that was not prescribed to him, he has committed a federal drug abuse offense and may be fired.  Children in public schools are also subjected to involuntary random drug testing.

The inmates were the guinea pigs for a program now being regularly employed on Americans.  This process conditions Americans to be accustomed to regularly submitting bodily fluid samples to the government, lessening their resistance to data collection and intrusion in other areas.

Metal Detection & Weapon Confiscation

Metal detector, Source J. Miles Cary for Knox News

In prison, detection and confiscation of weapons is a necessity.  Prisoners cannot be allowed the freedom to possess objects that could potentially be used to cause harm to others.  The security of the facility relies on the prisoners remaining disarmed.

With that said, not even prisons can be guaranteed to be weapon free.  Inmates are clever, and can fashion any piece of metal into a makeshift weapon.  They are also prolific smugglers.  To mitigate this risk, prisoners and visitors are put through metal detector checkpoints to keep them disarmed.  Any metallic contraband is confiscated.

Treating prisoners this way is one thing.  In a prison setting, security trumps liberty.  The liberties of the inmates have been curtailed through due process on an individual basis.  But these prison tactics have crept out into the “free world.”  Now, virtually all government buildings use metal detectors to screen incoming visitors and even their own personnel.  This establishes a climate of fear of weapons and a false sense of security among those within such “weapon free zones.”  If a prison can’t proclaim to be weapon free, how can any place outside of prison make such arrogant and naive claims?

Crowd Control

Crowd Control, Minneapolis 2008, by Nigel Parry

Helmets, face shields, batons, knee guards, tear gas, wedge formations, line formations, half steps, full steps, pinning tactics — all of these phrases are associated with prison crowd control. As I look at today’s police and how they attempt crowd control it reminds me of my days in federal prison as the Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) leader. The HNT worked closely with the Special Operations and Response Team (SORT) on both monthly local training and annual training at Fort Gruber in Muskogee Oklahoma. SORT membership is selective and highly practiced.  The teams must be familiar with hand signals and verbal commands, as well as certain maneuvers that are often referred to as “stomp and drag.”  These tactics are designed to help quell disturbances — the FBOP word for “riot” — by forcing inmates in the direction that SORT wants them to move.  This training takes place monthly for SORT members and annually for the rest of the FBOP staff.

The next time you see police engaged in crowd control on television you are watching what was perfected by prisons official through years of practice and real life action.  I participated in five disturbances.  After observing law enforcement agencies dress up in intimidating riot suits and mimic the behavior of SORT, it is clear that police are using prison tactics to intimidate and control civilian protesters.

Checkpoints & Random Pat Searches

Prisoners in line, source Springfield News-Sun

In federal prison, all inmates are subject to an immediate pat search by any staff member, anywhere, at any time. If the inmate refuses, he or she is “arrested,” which entails being cuffed and escorted to administrative segregation — otherwise known as the jail within the jail.  The pat search is used to detect contraband.   All inmates returning from industrial work programs in medium and low security institutions are pat searched and metal detected before being allowed to return to their dorm.  Additionally, inmates in medium and low security institutions are pat searched when they leave food service or the “chow hall.”  In high and maximum security institutions, inmates are pat searched every time they move.  Movement in these institutions is highly controlled.

Compare this to police roadblocks and checkpoints used to perform warrantless searches for contraband.  When a person is stopped by city, county, or state police, they are visually inspected, asked questions concerning their activities, and may be asked to submit to a vehicle or personal search.  At federal roadblocks, a subject can be directed to a secondary search area at the discretion of the observing officer.  There, the person can be searched for contraband regardless of any objections, just like in a federal prison. There are dozens of federal roadblocks on roads in the southwestern United States, many of them permanent and located up to 100 miles away from the border.

It isn’t just drivers being put through such intrusion.  There is also the matter of “stop and frisk” searches which are taking place in several areas of the country.  These intrusive stops involve the stopping of a pedestrian for any reason, followed by being subjected to a police officer’s questioning and a warrantless search of their pockets, purses, bags, and property — just like a prisoner.

Mail Surveillance

USPS Mail, source Justin Sullivan for Getty Images

Every piece of mail sent to an inmate in federal prison is opened, searched, and may be read depending on the dictates from the institutions intelligence office.  In medium and high security institutions, all mail is delivered to the unit officer unsealed so that it can be read before being delivered to the mail room.  Inmate mail  is controlled and may be copied if it is determined that there is possible criminal activity being discussed either blatantly or in code.  If something is detected it may be rejected and returned to the inmate if it violates policy.   Two examples of “rejected correspondence” are an inmate’s attempt to conduct unapproved business, or writing another inmate without permission.

Recent revelations have made it clear that Americans’ mail is being surveilled as well. The New York Times reported on how the United States Postal Service uses a “Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program” to create a permanent record of who is corresponding with each other via snail mail.  The program — secretly established in 2001 and not revealed for over a decade — assists the government in implementing blanket surveillance of every single resident of the United States.  Each piece of physical mail is photographed and stored in a database.  Law enforcement has unfettered access to this data without even the requirement of obtaining a warrant.  About 160 billion pieces of mail end up being recorded per year.

Telephone Monitoring

Telephone monitoring

Is the NSA listening to your phone calls?

For decades the FBOP has possessed the capability to monitor outgoing telephone calls. However, their system required staff to sit and listen to the calls which took staff away from direct supervision of inmates. In the early 2000s, a new system was put in place that allowed any and every phone in an institution to be immediately monitored and the call recorded.

Just like in a federal prison, the NSA has the capability to track and monitor anyone’s phone conversations without recourse.  The agency can monitor text messages.  They can collect locations, times, and a log of every phone number that has been dialed by any phone in the United States.  The government can set up fake base stations to intercept phone calls.  They can hack the applications on a person’s smart phone and spy on their usage.  The NSA can even crack cellphone encryption.

Unlike the inmates who have no choice in the matter of telephone monitoring, the American people have been told about the spying but have decided not to do anything about it.


National Guard soldiers lock down city streets in Boston. April 2013. Source by Jesse Costa for WBUR

When a correctional institution has its daily operations disturbed, often times it results in a lockdown. Lockdowns usually occur after a disturbance, weather concerns, inmate escapes, rumors of a disturbance about to occur, rumored escape attempts, and institution wide searches are some reasons to lockdown.

The most notable “free world” lockdown in recent memory occurred in Boston, Massachusetts. This lockdown mirrors a federal prison lockdown that is called when the entire institution is to be searched. That is exactly what occurred in Boston. In April 2013 the Boston suburb of Watertown was locked down to the point where no one could enter or leave the town, while 9,000 law enforcement personnel and military took part in searching just about every backpack, vehicle, and home that they could get away with.

Some of the searches were voluntary, but many were not.  As SWAT teams performed systematic house-to-house searches, videos were captured of families being ripped from their home without a warrant so the police could help themselves to the inside of their homes.  What resulted had the look of prisoners being removed from their cells by a SORT unit.  Watch for yourself:

The Watertown lockdown was practice for future declarations of martial law. Those tactics had been used and perfected in our prison systems for years. Now the “free world” is getting the prison treatment with little objection from the public.  The lockdown was not necessary and served mostly to measure the public’s reaction and to establish a sense of fear and intimidation. I think it worked.


Homeland Security poster urging snitching

Homeland Security poster urging snitching

The last thing I want to mention is what I call the “Moscow Law.” While growing up during the cold war, I was taught that in the USSR, people were expected to watch their neighbors, strangers, and even family and friends, and report any suspicious activity to the local police. We in America have that law. Read it below. Did you know it exists?

 Title 18 U.S.C. § 4:  Misprision of felony: Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

In prison, there are “snitches” everywhere.  Believe me, they are not just the inmates, they are also staff.  Programs like Infragard are attempting to do the same thing in the “free world” as it is in the imprisoned world.  Once these programs get started, they are almost impossible to stop.  What are we paying our law enforcement to do?  Protect us or detect us?  You decide.

Policy and program statements from the Bureau of Prisons are available at:

Marlon Brock is a retired Federal Law Enforcement Officer (HR 218) having worked 21 & 1/2 years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and private corrections. While in the FBOP I was an officer, records technician, paralegal trainee, Inmate Systems Manager, Correctional Programs Specialist, Introduction to Supervision Lead Instructor, Acting Associate Warden on numerous occasions, Duty Officer, and the Hostage Negotiations Team Leader. I was involved in a number of prison disturbances (riots) and flew the real “Con Air.” Today I am a part time videographer/photographer and an aspiring writer. I love writing and being given the opportunity to post some articles on is a chance of a lifetime for me. More Posts

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  • Gaz

    This is highly disturbing. Not because it is wrong to enjoy the security provided by law enforcement for the protection of citizens, but because if criminally minded or corrupt politicians gain control of this system then we have no way of removing them. Democracy will have reached it’s demise. No-one is safe even the employees of the state who are the enforcers who must perform the ‘dirty work’. We will have a state far worse than any communist state or Germany under Hitler. This will affect every life in a disturbingly profound way. Again there is nothing wrong with legitimate security but history has revealed that when a man has his freedom removed he fights back. Consequently the powers that be must use more extreme measures to keep control. Atrocities become common place & people who would not otherwise take a stand & protest perhaps outraged by the treatment of or death of a loved one decide to take action. The fire gets bigger until it is totally out of control. The state must then resort to even worse crimes against innocent people to maintain control & so it goes on & on & on. Let me pose a question. Would you trust any politician alive today with that much power?

  • Brilliant…and disturbing. So a police state is run like an open air prison? Why am I not surprised? Why didn’t we make this connection before?

  • #11) Cavity searches.

  • Southernfink

    Excellent comment.

  • Southernfink

    Why is there so remarkably little opposition from both the public and politicians and the MSM ?

    Why are not more people alarmed ?

    Why are other nations adopting identical policies ? Civil rights are still waning while state and corporate powers are gaining.

    Even worse, it’s connected to the WOT !

  • Southernfink

    O no not the glove, I have heard about that, just what type of sicko is willing to be employed while torturing other people ?

  • Southernfink

    Truth is that they are no longer really protecting the public, instead they are harming them and they are deliberately being recalcitrant when it comes to understanding and protecting civil rights like they are meant to do…

    Truth is, that the opposite is happening, civil rights are still being reduced, but all around the world.

    Where once camera’s stood for the so called monitoring of traffic, ever since 911 they have been incorporated into the security machine.

    I have read it on the board’s, The big ugly is coming…

  • re: “Why is there so remarkably little opposition from both the public and politicians and the MSM ?”

    The public is oblivious to it. The politicians are in on it.

    re: “Why are not more people alarmed ?”

    The police are mainly targeting POC (non-whites).

    re: “Why are other nations adopting identical policies ?”

    It’s the corollary of the neoliberal agenda. i.e. You need a police state along with the neoliberal state.

    re: “Even worse, it’s connected to the WOT !”

    Oh, SF. To you everything is connected to the WOT. (Just kidding – It is.)

  • I’ve read about a number of roadside cavity searches. And not changing gloves between cavities or persons. Really.

  • Southernfink

    Course it’s connected, it’s perfectly obvious, it’s just not mentioned often enough.

  • Southernfink

    That should constitute a felony.

  • Yes, it should. But the hallmark of a police state is that the police are not held accountable for their abuse.

  • Veri1138

    Mind if I borrow this? Much more articulate and to the point than arguing a point in so many words.

  • Gaz

    I believe it’s for a few different reasons. People are being dumbed down by reality TV. They are being dumbed down by the press, particularly tabloids. They have been made so lethargic by ingesting this rubbish (not that a balanced amount of TV etc is necessarily wrong) that even though many folks are aware of it they really hardly care. They have what they want. Beer & TV. Until that’s threatened…….Also it’s a bit like smoking. People know it’s wrong & can cause death by cancer but few take it seriously as it’s something that may or may not happen way down the line. They can deal with it later. That’s human nature.

    People don’t know what to do even if they could. They can sound off on places like this hoping if enough awareness is raised something may turn the tide, but it won’t. Frankly a lot of us feel impotent as it’s ‘them’ who have all the power.

    People are afraid as if they take action & that action becomes a significant threat they will suffer for it.

    Organized protests are usually dealt with violently by the police & the press make the protesters look like extremists & radical ‘hippies’ so most don’t take them seriously anyway. The sad thing is most of the police are victims just like us but they are trained to do a job without question. That has been the way with police & the military since time immemorial.

    Get the ‘plebs’ to deal with the ‘plebs’. While the more ‘active’ protesters fight with the police the real culprits keep their hands well away from any dirt or threat to their own personal safety or plan.

    Also the real issues usually get totally lost as the media focuses on a few thugs who react violently with graphic footage of the burning buildings etc during protests, as we have seen here in the UK.. What are the chances a few significant thugs are paid by ‘them’ for that very reason?

    Any influential or public person who takes action is also maligned by the press or the subject of some scandal dug up in their past. (If they have long hair all the better).

    Lastly if a threat is tangibly in front of you your immediate reaction is to take evasive or protectional action. If the threat remains largely hidden & there’s any doubt in your mind then your reaction tends to be to wait until you can see it more clearly hoping then you may know better what to do. There’s always that deep down hope that it may just ‘go away’. Again that’s human nature.
    Does that help answer your question?

  • All yours. “Abuse with impunity” may be better. There are some countries where it is illegal for the police to be charged with a crime but I can’t find the reference or what that’s called (if anything).

  • Leeoates

    Just another clear proof that the US is now a Fascist state run by the 1% and the big corporations. America the land of the Free no longer exists. Freedom is now an illusion to control the population. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights is now null and void.

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  • Gaz

    Yep, that’s right. Security is for the benefit of the culprits. It’s to protect them from democratic process. Governments are protecting corporations from the people instead of the other way around as are security agencies.

  • Southernfink

    Everything that cannot be explained by using logic becomes a matter of national security.

    The democratic process is an illusion, it’s been dismantled a long time ago when it was replaced by the duopolies that are scattered around the world and backed up by ISDS in trade deals in the unforeseen event when a real people’s ‘person’ happens to become elected.

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