Home Corrections How Correctional Officers Can Identify Sovereign Citizens in the Law Library
How Correctional Officers Can Identify Sovereign Citizens in the Law Library

How Correctional Officers Can Identify Sovereign Citizens in the Law Library

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By Jason Whiteheadalumnus, Intelligence Studies at American Military University

During more than 13 years of working in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, I have held many posts within the prison setting. I have been in the yards, in the mess hall, and walked the galleries plenty of times. One particular post that is sometimes deemed unimportant or uneventful by officers is the law library. However, this is often a misguided mindset and the law library is a post where officers must remain vigilant and observant.

The law library is there for inmates to access the courts; we cannot deny them access to the courts. Most inmates who go there are working on legal matters such as an appeals, divorce proceedings or child support cases. Some are even fighting off new charges. Others are the “legal beagle” type of inmate. They always carry their legal work; they always challenge the internal disciplinary system of the prison. These are inmates who often believe they know the laws and policies better than officers. But do not let their legal jargon intimidate you. In my experience, it is mostly for show.

While most inmates you find in the law library pose little threat, there are those who take their diligence much further than the average “legal beagle.” These are inmates involved in the sovereign citizen movement who will often come to “work” on their material. Sometimes referred to as “paper terrorists,” sovereign citizens should be carefully monitored.

Who Are Sovereign Citizens?

The FBI describes sovereign citizens as anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or sovereign from the United States.”

With the belief that they are not bound to the rule of law, sovereign citizens tend not to pay taxes or have valid identification like a driver’s license. Even more concerning, they will often hold their own court and issue invalid warrants on officers using fake credentials. They have also been known to recruit other inmates into following the same ideology.

[Related: Identifying Domestic Terrorist Threats Inside Prisons]

Sovereign citizens also tend to file invalid complaints with the court system. With so many of these invalid cases slowing down the system, it can sometimes cause things to grind to a halt until the matter is completely resolved. Outside of prison, sovereign citizens have been known to impersonate law enforcement officers and other government officials. They have assaulted and even killed officers.

How to Identify Sovereign Citizens

Here are some things correctional officers should look for when identifying sovereign citizens, especially in the law library:

  • Sovereign Citizen’s Cut-Out Kit – This is a book that can be purchased from many retailers such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It describes the movement and the theory of how to remove oneself from government control.
  • The Global Sovereign’s Handbook by Johnny Liberty – This is a detailed piece of literature that describes the movement and how to work within the movement.
  • Anything published by the Sovereignty Press – This is considered the sovereign citizens movement’s own publishing company used to publish their literature.
  • Literature on the “Strawman” or “Redemption” – These are intended to encourage frivolous lawsuits to defraud the U.S. Treasury.
  • Look for any addresses that seem to be off. For example, those with no zip codes or the name written in all capital letters with the copyright symbol “©” next to it. Here’s an example:

First Class Non Domestic
Without Prejudice
bk.12 Statutes At Large
Chapter 71 section 23
37th. Congress Session 111

  • Look for any Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) paperwork– These are the forms used for filing frivolous lawsuits against you. They are used to defraud the U.S. Treasury.

These are the documents and writings that the people of the sovereign citizen movement take seriously. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the literature and keep an eye on those working in the law library and with notary publics. It is likely this paperwork will eventually come across your desk in some form or variation.

About the Author: Jason Whitehead has served as a correctional officer with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision since 2005. He has also been an Adjunct Professor in Criminal Justice at Morrisville State College since 2016. He has a Master’s of Intelligence Studies with a Concentration in Criminal Intelligence from American Military University. He also has a Bachelor’s of Technology in Criminal Justice from Morrisville State College and an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Onondaga Community College. To contact him, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.


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  1. So, if Corrections Officers are so familiar with the law, why do they tend to violate them in reference to inmates? This is one of the reasons that some of these legal beagle are there.

    When I was in prison, I saw many Constitutional violations. One of which affected me the entire time that I was there. My hearing disability was ignored, discredited, and sometimes used against me.

    When my nephew was in county jail, his vegan diet was refused during his time there.

    These are the specific incidences that I can name at the moment. I had others, and saw other incidences, but due to the length of time out they have been forgotten to a point of inaccuracy.

    1. ED,

      I am aware that Prison Officials violate the rights of the inmates on a daily basis. You might not think so, byt the Federal (BOP) takes the cake. The “Legal Beagle” you mention, often thinks he knows mpre than he does. There are a few out there, the actual Writ Writers, the ones who not only understand the vocabulary, but the guys whom understand the the meaning and the scope and the realistic application as it comes to the Courts. I used the set up method. For example, I knew through the grievance process, what the boiler plate answers were going to be. Of course, an inmate must exhaust all available Administrative Remedies, before proceeding to Court with a Writ. IN this case, we will say, Habeaus. The trick in some cases, depending on the situation is to move not with some rarely used writ like a Mandamus (I have seen every single one fail). But to challenge the law or statute or policy that makes that abuse possible. Understanding the breadth and scope of case law (and fining it) on the subject matter. In the case you mentioned, the Vegan Diet. Step one, exhaust those remedies (there is a waiver for some Constitutional issues and if you can prove that the point would be moot, as Congress had already spoken to or addressed the matter) and that no administrative action could remedy the complaint. Anyway, so, if it were me, I would have made the initial grievance. I would also have been making a medical record by at least visiting medical once to complain about the failure of officials to address the issue. The attitude would be the being a vegan is a choice and that it is not Constitutionally protected, as if it were a religious issue. So, it is more complex and might fit better as medical issue than anything else. For example, (I have been brought up as a vegan and my body is not accustomed to meat protein intake and has now cased me medical issues). Describe those issues. Perhaps there is a religion that does not permit the eating of meat (I can tell you the Muslims abuse that badly on the pork issues). The Constitutional issue is the meeting the hurdle of the Eighth Amendments prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Insisting that someone partake in a specific diet, which does not cause medical harm or violate a closely held religious principle, I am afraid, will not make the cut and the action will fail. It would be a difficult case to win, the veganism case that is, and it would be expensive if I had agreed to take the case for sure. There would have been much commissary for my time. I liked novel cases, but not to the point where I was a paper terrorist. I needed to be sure I would win someones case, or had a reasonable chance of doing so. I was one of the rare ones, who actually lost in Federal District Court and won on appeal (an expedited appeal nonetheless, in the Eighth Circuit) winning my own and many others freedom, over the BOP’s newly found (way back then) Half Way House policies (based upon an opinion of the OLC) which was dead wrong and I was able to prove Congresses intent was not what the OLC was claiming. I bypassed exhaustion and they even relished the fight and also agreed to waive the exhaustion requirement. Then, the Court on its own motion, appointed an Attorney out of Memphis, to make the oral argument, as the arguments were resrved for Attorneys not in prison. He changed nothing on the submitted briefs and said that he could not have better written them. The panel of Judges swore I had to have been a lawyer (not the case). This lawyer made a pretty good argument after meeting me and proved he understood the complexities involved in my argument. We won, I was released about 6 months early and so were about 500-700 other inmates, it was a sight to behold. My point is, yes, I agree there are many violation, some so egregious, that the public would not believe. You ought to look up the term “Diesel Therapy.”… But, it is more important to pick your batteles and just like life out in the public, many times, the “little guy” gets squashed.


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