Criminal Justice Professor: Jailhouse Cash-For-Tips Program A Good Idea

Earlier this week, the Harris County jail implemented an inmate tipsters program, offering cash incentives for tips from prisoners. A policing and forensic psychology expert weighs in on the new policy. Wendy Siegle has more.
“As my pop used to tell me: 'You sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.' And some of these folks have slept with a lot of dogs and know about a lot of fleas.”

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia believes many people who get arrested for crimes know about other crimes. That’s why he’s started a new program asking inmates in the Harris County Jail to tip off Crime Stoppers.

Inmate tipsters are now eligible to receive a cash reward of up to $5,000 for tips leading to arrests or felony charges. Katherine Cabaniss is the Executive Director of Crime Stoppers. She says all tipsters will remain anonymous.

“There are people who are afraid to tell what they know about criminal activity. They’re afraid of retaliation by the offender that they’re reporting on. They will be given a code number and no one will ever know they are the person who called.”

Dr. Phillip Lyons is a professor in the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University.

“I would have to say I think it’s actually a pretty good idea.”

Like the Sheriff, he believes that inmates are a good potential resource for tips. But says there may be potential drawbacks.

“Even though cash provides a nice incentive for producing information, it is the case that the anti-snitching culture does provide some fairly strong ‘dis-incentives’ and I think that those ‘dis-incentives’ would likely be even stronger behind bars.”

But he says if the inmates stay truly anonymous, they shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Overall, Lyons likes the program and thinks it will be successful. He says giving money for information works in all settings and has no reason to believe it won’t work in prison, too.

Crime Stoppers says its jailhouse cash-for-tips program is the first of its kind in the country.



This story was written by intern Evin Erdowdu and voiced by Wendy Siegle.