On December 31, 2000, a total of 1,237,469 inmates were confined in state
and federal prisons in the United States. (Bureau
of Justice Statistics, 2001, p. 10) A total of 232,900 of
these inmates were between the ages of 18 and 24. (Bureau
of Justice Statistics, 2001, p. 10) Those youthful inmates,
roughly of gang member age, represent approximately 18% of all the
Fleisher and Decker (2001)
there are at least five major prison gangs, each
with its own structure and purpose.
Mafia (La Eme) started at the Deuel Vocational Center in Tracy,
California, in the 1950s and was California’s first prison gang composed
primarily of Chicanos, or Mexican Americans. Entrance into La Eme
requires a sponsoring member. Each recruit has to undergo a blood oath
to prove his loyalty. The Mexican Mafia does not proscribe killing its
members who do not follow instructions. Criminal activities include drug
trafficking and conflict with other prison gangs, which is common with
the Texas Syndicate, Mexikanemi, and the Aryan Brotherhood (AB).
The Aryan Brotherhood,
a white supremacist group, was started in 1967 in California’s San
Quentin prison by white inmates who wanted to oppose the racial threat
of black and Hispanic inmates and/or counter the organization and
activities of black and Hispanic gangs. Pelz, Marquart, and Pelz suggest
that the AB held distorted perceptions of blacks and that many Aryans
felt that black inmates were taking advantage of white inmates,
especially sexually, thus promoting the need to form and/or join the
Brotherhood. Joining the AB requires a 6-month probationary period.
Initiation, or “making one’s bones,” requires killing someone. The AB
trafficks in drugs and has a blood in, blood out rule; natural death is
the only nonviolent way out. The Aryan Brotherhood committed eight
homicides in 1984, or 32 percent of inmate homicides in the Texas
correctional system, and later became known as the “mad dog” of Texas
The Aryan Brotherhood structure within the federal
prison system used a three-member council of high-ranking members. Until
recently, the federal branch of the Aryan Brotherhood was aligned with
the California Aryan Brotherhood, but differences in opinion caused them
to split into separate branches. The federal branch no longer cooperates
with the Mexican Mafia in such areas as drugs and contract killing
within prisons, but as of October 1997, the California branch still
continued to associate with the Mexican Mafia. Rees suggested that the
Aryan Brotherhood aligned with other supremacist organizations to
strengthen its hold in prisons. The Aryan Brotherhood also has strong
chapters on the streets, which allows criminal conduct inside and
outside prisons to support each other.
Black Panther George Jackson united black groups
such as the Black Liberation Army, Symbionese Liberation Army, and the
Weatherman Underground Organization to form one large organization, the
Black Guerilla Family, which emerged in San Quentin in 1966. Leaning on
a Marxist-Leninist philosophy, the Black Guerilla Family was considered
to be one of the more politically charged revolutionary gangs, which
scared prison management and the public. Recently, offshoots within the
Black Guerilla Family have appeared. California reported the appearance
of a related group known as the Black Mafia.
La Nuestra Familia (“our family”) was established
in the 1960s in California’s Soledad prison, although some argue it
began in the Deuel Vocational Center. The original members were Hispanic
inmates from Northern California’s agricultural Central Valley who
aligned to protect themselves from the Los Angeles-based Mexican
Mafia. La Nuestra Familia has a formal structure and rules as well as a
governing body known as La Mesa, or a board of directors. Today, La
Nuestra Familia still wars against the Mexican Mafia over drug
trafficking but the war seems to be easing in California.
The Texas Syndicate emerged in 1958 at Deuel
Vocational Institute in California. It appeared at California’s Folsom
Prison in the early 1970s and at San Quentin in 1976 because other gangs
were harassing native Texans. Inmate members are generally Texas Mexican
Americans, but now the Texas Syndicate offers membership to Latin
Americans and perhaps Guamese as well. The Texas Syndicate opposes
other Mexican American gangs, especially those from Los
Angeles. Dominating the crime agenda is drug trafficking inside and
outside prison and selling protection to inmates.
Like other prison gangs, the Texas Syndicate has a
hierarchical structure with a president and vice president and an
appointed chairman in each local area, either in a prison or in the
community. The chairman watches over that area’s vice chairman, captain,
lieutenant, sergeant at arms, and soldiers. Lower-ranking members
perform the gang’s criminal activity. The gang’s officials, except for
the president and vice president, become soldiers again if they are
moved to a different prison, thus avoiding local-level group conflict.
Proposals within the gang are voted on, with each member having one
vote; the majority decision determines group behavior.
The Mexikanemi (known
also as the Texas Mexican Mafia) was
established in 1984. Its name and symbols cause confusion with the
Mexican Mafia. As the largest gang in the Texas prison system, it is
emerging in the federal system as well and has been known to kill
outside as will as inside prison. The Mexikanemi spars with the Mexican
Mafia and the Texas Syndicate, although it has been said that the
Mexikanemi and the Texas Syndicate are aligning themselves against the
Mexican Mafia (Orlando-Morningstar, 1997). The Mexikanemi has a
president, vice president, regional generals, lieutenants, sergeants,
and soldiers. The ranking positions are elected by the group based on
leadership skills. Members keep their positions unless they are
reassigned to a new prison. The Mexikanemi has a 12-part
constitution. For example, part five says that the sponsoring member is
responsible for the person he sponsors; if necessary, a new person may
be eliminated by his sponsor.
Hunt et al. suggest that the Nortenos and the
Surenos are new Chicano gangs in California, along with the New
Structure and the Border Brothers. The origins and alliances of these
groups are unclear; however, the Border Brothers are comprised of
Spanish-speaking Mexican American inmates and tend to remain solitary.
Prison officials report that the Border Brothers seem to be gaining
membership and control as more Mexican American inmates are convicted
The Crips and Bloods,
traditional Los Angeles street gangs, are gaining strength in the prison
as well as are the 415s, a group from the San Francisco area (415 is a
San Francisco area code). The Federal Bureau of Prisons cites 14 other
disruptive groups within the federal system, which have been documented
as of 1995, including the Texas Mafia, the Bull Dogs, and the Dirty
White Boys. (Citations omitted to save
space. You may view the original work which includes the omitted
If Beck's 1991 estimate that approximately 12% of prison inmates were
gang-affiliated could be extrapolated to today, then perhaps as many as 148,496 gang members
(12% of all 1,237,469 inmates) were confined in state and federal prisons on
December 31, 2000. If, in order to be a gang, at least five
characteristics of a gang were required then as many as 74, 245 inmates were
gang members (6% of all 1,237,469 inmates). According to Yager,
the California Department of Corrections has stated there are over 100,000
gang inmates in that state's prison system alone.
Administrators in detention centers and training
schools were asked to estimate the proportion of confined juveniles who
had problems in particular areas, including gang involvement. In
both, ... facility administrators estimated that about 40 percent of the
confined youth were involved in gangs. Gangs clearly present
significant problems in juvenile detention and correctional facilities. (Howell,
1998, P. 4)
With the possibility of so many prison inmates involved in gang
activity, what impact do they have?
The Impact of Prison Gangs
Inmate gangs have an impact on prisoners' lives and well-being in prison, on prison
administrators and staff and on the residents of neighborhoods into which they move upon
their release from prison.
The impact of prison gangs on prisoners' lives may be measured by the amount
of violence which takes place in the prison. While it may be said that gangs
play a role in stabilizing the inmate environment (by protecting some
inmates from assaults, exploitation, or other harm), Gabriel (1996) believes they also contribute to
the amount of violence found in prison.
While in prison, inmates are subject
to prison politics, racism, corruption, barbarism, and the misconduct of
correctional officers. The life of a gang member is in many ways tougher and
more dangerous than if the gang member was on the outside. The biggest
reason for this is because there is no refuge or place to lay low until
favorable conditions arise.
In prison, one must always watch his back,
gangster or not. Many gang members search out friends already in prison to
ally themselves with so that it is not just the individual that a potential
aggressor will pit himself against. Rather it is a group of individuals that
carry much more clout and power to harm than one person could ever possess.
Thus the gangs that are supposedly broken down on the outside re-form within
the walls of prison. (Gabriel,
A one-year study of over 82,000 federal inmates in the United States
revealed that those who were embedded in gangs (referred to as gang
embeddedness) were more likely to exhibit violent behavior and
misconduct than those who were peripherally involved in gangs. And those who
were peripherally involved exhibited more violent behavior and misconduct
than those who were unaffiliated. (Gaes,
et. al., 2002)
In gang-dominated prisons, gangs rule the roost. Which inmates eat at
what times and where they sit in the dining hall, who gets the best or worst
job assignments in the prison, who has money and nice clothes, who lives and
who dies - all of these things, and others, are determined by gangs in the
prison. Their very presence requires special attention from prison
A 1999 survey elicited
information on prison gangs from representatives of 133 adult state
correctional institutions in the U.S. In 1999, two-thirds of the
facilities had disciplinary rules that prohibited gang recruitment. About
half of respondents believed that 'no human contact' inmate status [being
placed in solitary] was ineffective in controlling gang members. (Knox,
Prison staff, too, may be participants in or potential
victims of the prison gang culture. As participants, they may be actively
or passively involved. As active participants they may collude with inmate
gang members by providing alibis, providing opportunities for the
commission of certain crimes, or taking bribes or payment for their
silence or other form of assistance.
As passive participants in prison gang activity they may
simply "overlook" an incident or situation or neglect their duty
just long enough for the gang members to do what it is that they wanted to
do. In either case, prison staff are not immune to the negative influence
of prison gangs. As victims of gang activity they may be threatened, harassed,
extorted, physically or sexually assaulted, or murdered.
About one-sixth of the
institutions reported that gang members had assaulted correctional staff
members, and about half reported that gang members had threatened
corrections officers. Two-thirds of all institutions were providing gang
training to their correctional officers by 1999.
inmates were released from American prisons in the year 2005. Some of them
were diehard gang members. Upon being discharged from prison (when one's full
sentence has been served) or released early on
parole, prison gang members
move back into society. Unless they recant their
gang membership, they are likely to continue their gang activity. Their impact on a
community may be measured by their continued criminal activity, the harm
they inflict upon their victims and their participation in already existing
Research suggests that
involvement of ex-convicts in youth gangs increases the life of gangs and
their level of violent crime, in part because of the ex-convicts’
increased proclivity to violence following imprisonment and the visibility
and history they contribute to youth gangs (Howell
and Decker, 1999).
As you may know, there are both state prisons and federal prisons.
Generally speaking, state prisons confine people who have
been convicted of violating state law while federal prisons confine people who have
been convicted of violating
federal laws. As we will see in another section of Into the Abyss, several
states and the federal government have enacted laws which
lengthen the sentences of convicted gang members. Not only are there
gang members in prison, but due to their proven gang affiliation they are
sometimes sentenced to longer prison terms. Given what's happening in most of America's
prisons, the longer exposure may only make the problem worse.
What do prison gang members do?
|Field Note: A
federal prison administrator told me "Gangs exist everywhere in prisons.
they are a force in the prison or not is up to the administration of that
prison. In low security facilities there are few gang members and they
have little influence. It's a different matter in the high security
prisons. And drugs and gangs are in nearly every prison. Protection
is also there. They are the two primary rackets operated by gang
inmates [drugs and protection]."
Among the activities of inmate gang members are drug running and cell taxing -
charging to occupy a given cell. Some cells are designated by inmates as
being for Caucasian inmates while others are designated for
African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and
so on. Cell residents may be taxed because the cells are far from the security stations
at the end of the cellblock. I was told that "The dope
heads (drug users) like to be away from the security folks."
There are usually televisions in prison cellblocks and a Hispanic inmate may be taxed for his cell
because it is close to the television that is set on a Spanish-speaking station
or an English- speaking inmate because it is located near an
English-speaking station - whatever the inmate prefers and is willing to pay
for. Some cells are closer to the TV than others and
that may cause a cell tax to be imposed.
Some prisons have rooms set aside for the sole purpose of television
viewing. In one prison I visited, the administrator said "We have several
TV rooms and all but one of them is owned by the blacks. Only certain blacks, depending on their gang affiliation, can use certain rooms unless
there's some popular athletic event being shown - then all of them cram in to
Rock, Scissors, Paper
|Field Note: An
inmate wrote "Now-a-days everything in these places is so
screwed up because of all the gang bangers in these places. white gangs -
black gangs - Mexican gangs. Everything is very
segregated which is just fine in my point of view."
Many inmates find it difficult to survive in prison unless they are
affiliated with a gang. But there's a twist. The twist may be best explained using an analogy. Do you remember a game
called Rock, Scissors, Paper? It's a game kids play using hand
signs. Each player chooses rock, scissors, or paper without telling
the other players their choice. Then each child displays their chosen
hand sign at the same time. Rock is symbolized by a clenched fist and rock beats scissors.
Scissors are characterized by a protruding index and middle finger in
the shape of scissors blades and scissors beat paper. Paper is shown by
holding out an open hand with fingers all touching side by side. If we stop the game there
I can use this as an analogy that helps
describe the gang situation in prison.
In the analogy "rock" is race or ethnicity,
"scissors" is a gang, and "paper" is an inmate who is
not gang affiliated. Inmates who are not affiliated with a gang are
often in peril in a prison setting. They have no one who will come
to their aid if they are assaulted or extorted and no one who will join them in
There are a few exceptions to this rule. The exceptions include inmates who
have organized crime connections on the outside, and those who are knowledgeable
about the law and may, therefore, be valued for their ability to help other
inmates write legal briefs for their appeals. There are other inmates who are
alone because they are seriously ill or very old,
and inmates who are so physically powerful or out of their minds that few
inmates will assault them.
Most inmates, however, are vulnerable. In our analogy the next class of
inmates are the gang members - scissors. They assault non-gang members -
those who are "paper" in our analogy, and rival gang members. According to one federal prison administrator, "About one-third of
my prison's one thousand seven hundred inmates are not in a gang. They are
referred to by the staff as 'lame' or as 'dorks.'
eat meals together in the mess hall with the First Nations People [a class
of people that used to be called Native American Indians]. The unaffiliated are often extorted by gang inmates and used in
Then there are the rocks - the racial and ethnic groups. They beat
all. That is, African-American inmates who are Crips, Bloods, Black Gangster
Disciples, or whatever their name, are faced with a new enemy - groups of non-African-Americans. In most instances this means
they need protection from Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic inmates in the
prison. Suddenly prior gang affiliation and old hatreds between
same-race/same-ethnicity gangs succumb
to fears of racial or ethnic conflict.
According to another federal prison administrator, "Among the federal inmates who are gang members,
being a Crip
or a Blood sometimes doesn't matter when they are confronted as blacks by Hispanic
and other ethnic gangs.
The conflict between these
ethnic or racial
groups seems to bring the black gangs together - putting aside any differences
they may have had on the street."
Rock beats scissors. The hatred fostered by various racial and
ethnic groups against one another can drive previously conflicting gangs and
their members together in the prison setting. Solidarity occurs in the face
of the larger threat to their well being.
According to a long time administrator in the federal prison system,
"There's a split in the federal
prisons among the blacks. There are incarcerated blacks who segregate
themselves by their faith beliefs - Muslims, Faharakan's people, groups like
gangsters - and they are sometimes divided as well, into Crips, Bloods, and Black
"Then there are those who do not want to be involved in any of
these sub-groups, and affiliate by the cities, regions of the country, or
the country from which they came. Remember - this is about federal prisons where
inmates come from all over the country, and from other countries."
His remarks concerning gang
conflicts based upon faith or religious concerns sounded similar to
the conflicts I witnessed in England between the Sikh and Muslim
youth and other
"The white inmates are also
divided," he continued. [Pointing to different parts of the
prison recreation area the administrator said] "The
Skinheads, KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and Neo-Nazis are over here, organized crime
figures are over there, and there are the inmates who do not affiliate with any of
One of the federally
incarcerated, gang-member inmates I interviewed said "White men in
prison see the white gang bangers as niggers and, because of that, they put
them through the test. Either they become Arian Nation [an
exclusively Caucasian white supremacist gang] or other
pro-white or they're beat up pretty bad."
Special administrative and management techniques have been
developed to deal with the conflicts which arise out of a gang presence in a
Managing Gangs in a Prison
One of the federal prisons I visited had 1,200 inmates. Eight
hundred of them were documented gang members and proud of their gang affiliation. They
represented several different nations of gangs
including those that were Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, and
African-American. Among them were at least 70 sets of
I interviewed the head of security for the prison. His office walls were lined with wallet-size
photos of every
gang-affiliated inmate in the prison. The pictures were grouped
by gang name and set and each picture had the gang members' moniker written on
it. Some of the pictures were upside down. I asked about
them and was told "Oh, those? Those are the ones who've been acting like assholes
Our conversation drifted to the subject of administrating in a prison with
so many gang members.
|Field Note: I asked about
administrative differences between prisons with gangs and those with
only a small gang presence. He
said "The biggest difference is in the amount of time gangs
percent of our time is spent with 10% of the inmates. That's an old
saying, but in the case of gangs in prison, it's probably true.
Gangs are the tail that
wags the dog, if you know what I mean.
We spend more time working on
gangs than anything else. We have to document them, control conflicts
within gangs and between gangs, we have to know their tattoos and what
they mean, we have to watch out who we put [in a cell, in a dining
hall, or at work] with who, we have to monitor their calls and
movements. It just takes a lot of time."
A correctional administrator told me "There is a heavy emphasis on gathering gang intelligence inside and
outside the prison in an effort to maintain safety and security. We
have five Intelligence Officers within the correctional officer cadre, one
for each gang - the Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Whites, and Latin
Kings." The administrative structure of the prison reflects its
Prison gangs constitute a persistently disruptive force in
correctional facilities because they interfere with correctional programs,
threaten the safety of inmates and staff, and erode institutional quality of
Prison gangs share organizational similarities. They have a
structure with one person who is usually designated as the leader and who
oversees a council of members that makes the gang's final decisions. Like
some street counterparts, prison gangs have a creed or motto, unique symbols
of membership, and a constitution prescribing group behavior.
dominate the drug business, and many researchers argue prison gangs are also
responsible for most prison violence. Adverse effects of gangs on prison
quality of life have motivated correctional responses to crime, disorder,
and rule violations, and many correctional agencies have developed policies
to control prison gang-affiliated inmates. (Fleisher
and Decker, 2001)
|Field Note: According to a parole administrator with three years experience as an
prison-based parole officer, "It's important to
confiscate gang-related materials and graffiti in institutions in order to
make a statement that this is inappropriate behavior. And
graffiti interferes with communication in the prison."
The current policy of some prison administrators in their dealings with
incarcerated gang members is to use both intervention and suppression
strategies. Intervention initiatives are sometimes referred
to as "deganging" or "renunciation programs" while some institutions segregate or
separate gangs from one another in hopes of maintaining peace in the
facility. The Taylorville Correctional Center in Illinois is an example of a
prison which does not tolerate gang activity. According to the Illinois
Department of Corrections:
designates Taylorville Correctional Center as a security threat group free
prison. Admission to the facility requires inmates to have no documented
history of security threat group membership or activity. Strong disciplinary
sanctions are employed for any inmate identified as participating in any
security threat group activity including transfer, loss of good time,
disciplinary segregation and loss of privileges.
copied from the Internet on 6 March 2003)
According to Meghan Mandeville, News Research Reporter for Corrections
Connection, in order to "help inmates who want to break away from that way
of life, TDCJ created the Gang Renouncement and Disassociation (GRAD)
program to give them a way out. "It gives the offenders an avenue to
renounce their gang membership, to get out of the gang and to be able to go
back to the general population," said Kenneth W. Lee, Program Administrator
for TDCJ's STG Management Office. "Then, [they can] be released into the
free world and thrive in society." (Online
Fleisher and Decker (2001)
note that the conditions of American prison contribute to the
problems surrounding prison gangs and their members' impact on the
communities to which they return when paroled or released from prison. They
We do not advocate coddling
inmates but we surely do not advocate allowing millions of imprisoned
inmates to live with drug addictions, emotional difficulties, and
educational and employment skills so poor that only minimum-wage
employment awaits them. These are the disabilities that, to some degree
define the American inmate population, and these same disabilities will
damage the quality of life in our communities when these untreated,
uneducated, and marginal inmates return home . . . Prisons are our last
best chance to help law-breakers find a lawful, economically stable
place in mainstream communities.
Suppression efforts include, among other things,
isolation of gang members within the prison (Judson,
1996) and reducing the influence of gang leaders by moving them to
different prisons or centralizing them in one prison. (Carlson,
Salvador Buentello is affiliated with the Security Threat
Group Management Office of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is
also a Board Member of the National Major Gang Task Force. According to
Buentello, the Texas prison system now has
sixty graduates of our gang
renunciation program, 250 more inmates are awaiting participation, and
another 828 have indicated they want to disassociate from a gang. Last year,
out of about 6,000 gang-affiliated inmates in the system, we had only 150
who indicated they wanted to disassociate from a gang.
As time goes by and gang-affiliated inmates see there is an
established program for getting away from the gang life, it is becoming more
acceptable to participate in it. They don't feel as threatened by other
gang-affiliated inmates who don't want to disassociate.
The gang renunciation program takes nine months to complete
and includes substance abuse intervention, anger management classes,
cognitive skills development, and some faith-based introspection and
treatment. Inmates who satisfactorily complete the program are then moved
from gang-related housing in the prison to a gang-free environment. At least
it's as gang-free as possible.
We simply had to develop some kind of program. In 1985 we
had two Security Threat Groups (gangs) at war and fifty-two inmates were
killed in one year. One correctional officer was also killed in a
gang-related incident that year. The situation is much better now that we
have the gang renunciation program in place. (Salvador
Buentello, telephone interview, 28 November, 2001)
There's not a great deal of literature on gang defection while in prison,
but one article caught my attention and speaks to some interesting aspects
of this phenomenon. Fong, et al. (1995), surveyed 85 former Texas prison gang
members who defected from their prison gang while in prison. Here are some
of his findings.
All respondents reported no previous participation in
street gangs; their active participation in prison gangs before defection
was 3.36 years. Prison gangs are organized along paramilitary lines, and
the majority of respondents never held any rank beyond that of
Additional analyses revealed that only 12 of the
respondents admitted to having committed gang-related violence. Findings
show that the single most important reason for leaving the gang was loss
of interest in the gang (n=10), followed by refusing to carry out a
"hit" on a non-gang member (n=9).
Other reasons included disagreeing with the direction
in which the gang was going (n=7), refusal to carry out a "hit"
on a fellow gang member (n=6), violating a gang rule (n=5), "growing
out" of it (n=5), informing prison officials about gang business
(n=4), and refusing to engage in gang crime (n=2).
Given that the commitment to the prison gang is
expected to last a lifetime, with death being the punishment for
defection, it is surprising that most of the respondents left their gangs
for the relatively inane reason of having lost interest in it. (Fong,
Vogel, and Buentello, 1995)
One can only guess, of course, about what the future holds in store as regards
in our prisons. It is certain that more gangs and gang members are appearing in
prisons where, heretofore, they were seldom found. (Jackson
and Sharpe, 1997) As of this writing, there are approximately 2,100,000 people
confined in prisons and jails in the United States and that number has been
growing steadily over the past two decades. Increasingly violent crimes
committed by gang members, and the use of imprisonment and longer sentences
to control them, suggest more gang members will fill our prisons' cells in the
As a result of their incarceration, gang members from different cities
within the same state will continue to meet, perhaps for the first time
in their lives. If they are of the same race or ethnicity, they may join forces with gangs they would never have
on the street. And what happens when they return to the
streets? Will they bring their new alliances to the gangs from which
they were taken when arrested? Is that already happening?
Robert Yager recently wrote about the impact of Los Angeles gang members
who are returning to Los Angeles on parole. Noting
that "Los Angeles is in terrible shape - again," he found the
number of gang-related murders in the city increased 143% from 1999 to 2000
"after falling steadily from 1996 to '99." A total of "331 people
died because of gang violence" in 2000 "in contrast to 136 in 1999." (Yager,
2001, p. 46)
Criminologists point to two reasons for the city's
[Los Angeles] upsurge in violence. First, veteran gang members jailed a decade ago
during the crack epidemic are getting out of prison - and returning to
reinfect their neighborhood with violent habits hardened and reinforced in
"The next generation of gang homicides is going
to have a different construct [from the crack epidemic]," says Jack
Riley, director of the criminal-justice program at Rand Corp. His
research points to returning felons as a major reason for the spike in
shootings across Los Angeles. There are 100,000 gang members in jail in
California and they are getting out at a rate of about 3,000 a month,
according to the state's department of corrections. This year alone will
see more than 30,000 veteran gang members back on the streets. (Yager,
2001, p. 46)
The second reason for the increase in violence in Los Angeles has to do
with police corruption. Due to the corruption, police have "backed
2001, p. 48) of the gang neighborhoods they are supposed to serve.
As gang members ... are coming back to their old
neighborhoods, the police - demoralized by scandal - are backing out of
them. In the mid-90's, the L.A.P.D. (Los Angeles Police Department)
curtailed gang violence with some hard-nosed policing, spearheaded by
tough CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) units.
But after Rafael Perez, a rogue cop from the
L.A.P.D.'s Rampart division, was arrested in 1998 for stealing cocaine
from a police warehouse, he implicated 70 antigang cops, alleging
corruption, excessive force, planting evidence and falsifying testimony.
In the end, eight cops were indicted, of these, four were cleared, three
pleaded to lesser crimes, and one is awaiting trial.
As a result of his testimony ... some 100 gang
convictions were overturned. The city is facing as much as $125 million in
liability claims stemming from the Rampart scandal.
Los Angeles chief of police Bernard Parks dissolved
the CRASH units in March 2000 and in their place set up Special
Enforcement Units, which operate under severely limited rules of
engagement. Morale fell to an all-time low, and many cops left for police
departments in other cities. (Yager,
2001, p. 48)
The use of recently enacted federal legislation on gang members results
in their incarceration in federal prisons due to their involvement with illegal drugs. There they meet offenders from around the
country and the world, many of them international drug dealers,
distributors, and terrorists. What are the implications of these new associations when
inmates return to the community upon
release from prison?
|Field Note: An
African-American inmate who has been in and out of prison several
times told me "Bloods and Crips sort of get along in the prison because
it's being Black that's important in the face of so much gang
competition - not being Red [Blood] or Blue [Crip]. Their origin bein' L.A. is most important."
He also believed that, among the African-American gang members who have
been around for a long time, the interaction between the Bloods and Crips
within the prison has resulted in
increased tolerance for mixing while on the street outside prison.
As all of these gang-member inmates are released into their home
communities, what will their impact be on local gang members? If the
receiving communities don't act to provide returning inmates with housing,
job training, and jobs, I predict their newly achieved status as ex-convict
will result in their being respected in the gang community. They will
encourage cooperation with former enemy gangs in pursuit of greater gain and
As we've seen, gangs in prison, much like those on the street, are
difficult to eliminate because they have come to serve a purpose - they are
functional. They provide their members with protection, security, power,
status, income, and association with others of their own kind. This does not
bode well when it comes to integrating ex-convict gang members back into the
community once they are released or paroled from confinement.
Impediments to community integration of prison gang
members include the facts that gangs facilitate crime; gangs are social
groups with longevity; self-identification to a gang may persist for years
or decades, especially among adult offenders with extensive criminal
histories; a gang identity and accompanying social ties create a sense of
belonging; gang members are poor and are therefore outsiders in the
mainstream community; and gang identity is linked to self identity. (Fleisher
and Decker, 2001)
Other than their impact on prison life and on the communities into which
they are released, what other reasons are there for being concerned about
gangs? That's our next topic.
Michael K. Carlie
Additional Resources: See
what various correctional institutions are doing
to reduce gang activity. Learn
more about the Aryan
Brotherhood, Neta, Black Guerrilla Family, Mexican Maria, La Nuestra
Familia, and Texas Syndicate from the Florida Department of Corrections.
Since September 11, 2001, much has changed in terms of
Ahead of Gangs/STGs in Corrections.
You can also read
a good description of prison gangs by Robert Walker, Betty
Ann Bowser's report on Texas prison gangs as aired on the Jim Leherer
Hour, an article on gang
activity in an African prison, and another on
the gang situation in at
least one Illinois prison. Sammy
Buentello, an expert on prison gangs who works for the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice, reports on gangs
in Texas prisons.
As you may know, the History Channel (television) has a
series entitled Gangland. The website for that program offers a
description of "Modern
If you'd like to hear from gang members who are in
prison, visit a portion of Joan O'Brien's web site
Gangs and At-Risk Kids.
You can learn more about
Up Behind Bars or discover what's
happening in Paradise (Hawaii).
Correctional officers in prisons often serve as
intelligence officers. You can read about what
they are expected to do. The term now used to speak of groups such as
gangs and terrorists is Security
Threat Groups - popularly known as STGs.
Check out what the Bureau of Justice Statistics has to
say about past
and future trends in corrections.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in
writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.