Search About Newsletters Donate
The Orange County sheriff's jailhouse snitch scheme came to light during the trial of Scott Dekraai, left, who ultimately pleaded guilty to killing eight people in a 2011 shooting spree.
Quiz

The Jailhouse Snitch: A Quiz

Test your knowledge on the high-stakes market in information behind bars

This month, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Orange County, California, district attorney and sheriff, the latest development in the county’s ongoing “snitch scandal.” For at least a decade, as part of a large-scale, meticulously organized program, deputies would plant informants to secretly gather incriminating information about defendants in the jail. When the snitches testified against those defendants, they didn’t reveal that law enforcement had orchestrated the encounters.

Prosecutors commonly use informants to secure convictions, swapping leniency for “substantial assistance.” Insiders with information to barter can be particularly crucial in cases of organized crime or sophisticated drug operations. (It wasn’t until Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano snitched that the feds finally nabbed John Gotti, for example.) It is common for prosecutors to bring the toughest possible charges against a potential informant as a lever to get cooperation.

But snitches who gather intelligence on jailhouse neighbors — often complete strangers — should be treated with particular skepticism, courts have said: they have “a tremendous incentive” to say whatever prosecutors want to hear, says Boston College Law Professor Robert Bloom, author of “Ratting: The Use and Abuse of Informants in the American Justice System.”

Below, test your knowledge of how jailhouse snitching works — and doesn’t work — around the country.

This is not a paywall.

We’ll never put our work behind a paywall, and we’ll never put a limit on the number of articles you can read. No matter what, you can always turn to The Marshall Project as a source of trustworthy journalism about the criminal justice system.

Donations from readers like you are essential to sustaining this work. Knowing that you’re behind us means so much. Can we count on your support today?

Donate