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Newschannel 12 investigates gangs in jail

By Michael Hennessey
Published On: Dec 12 2013 06:07:37 PM CST
GREENVILLE, PITT COUNTY -

In February we investigated the gang situation in Greenville (click here to view part I of that story, and here for part II). However, we were curious as to if and how gangs function once they're off the streets.

In order to get the facts, we met up with Major Jeff Phillips, the Chief of Detention Services for the Pitt County Detention Center.

Phillips says the detention center houses about 500 inmates at a time, and around 10,000 a year. Many of those inmates belong to major gangs, including Crips, Bloods, MS-13 and Folk Nation.

For Phillips and his staff training is essential in dealing with the gang members. He says "knowing what you have, acting on what you see, and getting that information out to everyone that's involved," is key.

Phillips says jails and prisons are either run by the inmates, or run by the staff. He insists the Pitt County Detention Center is staff-run. In order to keep it that way, his staff must gather as much information as possible on incoming inmates.

Sergeant Jerry Allen is the detention center's Classification Supervisor. That means he's in charge of finding out who belongs to what gangs and deciding where to house them. Allen says his first action is to"try to find out the gang, and their names and if they are friends or foes."

The main problem they face is a lack of space to put the inmates. The detention center has undergone renovations and additions, bringing their total to 596 beds. However, 96 of those beds are in the jails E-block, which Phillips says is currently shut down due to a lack of money in the budget to pay workers to oversee the block.

With a smaller amount of space to house the inmates, they're forced to put members of the same gangs together. Allen says this poses problems. "When gangs have similar attitudes, values and interests, they're going to get together, they are going to recruit," he says. However, they say putting fellow gang members together is less dangerous than putting rival gang members near each other.

Phillips says there is a hierarchy of gang members inside the jail. "You wanna make sure that you pay close attention to the person you think those orders are coming from," he said.

Though the orders may come from the top, Phillips says it's the newest gang members who are the most unpredictable. "When you have a true gang member you know what their capabilities or their history may be. When you have somebody that's just getting involved in one, you may not know anything about that person," he said.

The detention center staff doesn't only have to worry about protecting inmates from each other, but also themselves from the inmates. "In the past we have had investigations that certain officers were targeted," said Phillips. Inmates are known for creating weapons using smuggled items. "People will try to sneak anything in," said Allen. "Things that we would think normally as an ordinary item that's not dangerous, which it is not in itself, but behind their creativity they can make a weapon."

Phillips says the struggle of power is one he refuses to lose. "You fight those battles every day, so that you don't lose the war in the end," he said.