There’s one unwritten rule among inmates that matters more than any other behind bars.
Snitching is when an inmate informs on another inmate to a correction officer, often about misconduct like violence they’ve carried out or contraband items like weapons or drugs they possess. Inmates consider the rule the most sacred principle of life in jail, and violators are often met with violent retribution.
Seven law-abiding citizens got to see that rule play out in real time on the A&E show “60 Days In,” which sends regular people to jail to witness firsthand the realities of life behind bars. On the show, now in its fifth season, the undercover inmates were given fake identities and booked under false charges at the Pinal County Adult Detention Center in Florence, Arizona, for two months.
Throughout their two-month stints, the undercover inmates witnessed numerous bloody fights and found that violence was a way for inmates to keep their social hierarchy in place. They quickly learned that in jail, merely being accused of informing on a fellow inmate is enough to bring danger their way.
“If someone calls you a snitch in jail, that can get you beaten up, it can get you shanked, it can get you killed,” an undercover inmate named Brooke said.
The anti-informing code stems from inmates’ longstanding distrust of jail staff, as well as inmates’ belief that they must police themselves to keep order in their cells, some of the participants said on the show.
An inmate from the show’s fourth season, filmed at Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail, said he felt intimidated not to inform on his cellmate after he learned the inmate was hiding a homemade knife somewhere in their cell.
“I’m scared of something going down. My worst case scenario would be sleeping and getting shanked at night,” the undercover participant, a police officer named Alan, said.
One incident from an episode earlier this year showed just how quickly accusations of snitching can snowball. When an inmate from another wing of the jail was transferred into the pod where Abner, an undercover inmate, was living, rumors began to swirl that the new inmate was a snitch who was removed from another pod for his safety.
“An inmate came into the pod, and he was a rat. Rats don’t live there,” Abner said. “So automatically, his days are numbered.”
The accusation immediately escalated racial tension among the inmates as they tried to verify the claim. Because the new inmate was white, it fell on other white inmates to confront the inmate, and some inmates from other racial factions accused them of taking too long to handle the situation. The inmate was eventually removed from the pod for an unrelated accusation.
The incident was another reminder of how seriously charges of snitching are taken in jail.
“At the end of the day, the politics played out,” Abner said.
Fear of being labeled a snitch led the participants to think twice before they shared anything with another inmate.
One undercover inmate, a former prison chaplain named Matt, was surprised when an inmate confided to him that he was gay — a secret he knew could lead to a beating.
“They’re under so such pressure to contain that information that it’s scary,” Matt told Business Insider. “You’ll find inmates just sitting in corners shaking because they can’t talk to anybody about anything, they can’t really self-express any of that information that could compromise their safety.”
He continued: “You’ve got to watch everything that goes out of your mouth, because if you don’t, and it’s characterized as information that is privileged and you share it, you have become target, and you don’t know if you’re going to live or die.”
“60 Days In” airs Thursday at 10:30 p.m.