Causes of Gangs in Prison

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Influences Imprisoning the Streets

Prison. Gangs. These two words are separate entities, though they are often associated together. This is because of the social view and perception that our society has on both gangs and on prison. Now it is not that this association is wrong or a bad thing. The fact is that in America, there are gangs, street gangs, prison gangs, and prison street gangs, all influencing each other and being influenced by on another. This paper aims to decipher exactly how prison and gangs all relate to each other, whether good, bad, or ugly. This is not necessarily to compare them, but rather to explore the interactions that each has with the other and find out the influence of each on the other. To start off this paper, the term ‘Gang’ must be defined. This is harder then it may seem, as English has many meanings for the word. It may mean anything a group of school friends in their thirties that have known each other for years. Or, it may mean a violent prison or street gang. For our purposes, when the word ‘gang’ is mentioned, it shall refer to a street gang, unless it is specifically referring to a prison gang.

A street gang is popularly defined as a group that qualifies in three different ways. A. It has three or more individuals that meet together; B. It has a distinct name; C. It engages in a pattern of criminal behavior. This definition may be stretched or abused by some in order to classify and or de-classify certain groups as gangs, and ultimately the definition comes down to a judgment called, but for the purpose of this paper, this shall be the definition of a gang. Now, it may seem logical that a prison gang is simply a group inside a prison that falls into the same criteria and meets these three requirements. Basically this is correct, except for one thing; prison gangs don’t officially exist.

Traditionally, the term ‘prison gang’ was used to include both traditional prison gangs as well as prison gangs with street gang cliques, an example of the first being the Mexican Mafia and the second being the Vice Lords or the Gangster Disciples. In this paper, the first shall be referred to as a ‘prison gang’ and the second a ‘prison street gang’. According to authorities however, there are no ‘prison gangs’. These groups do exist of course, but are classified as “Security Threat Groups’ or ‘STG’s’ (Walker) (Carlson & Garrett, 2008). In Federal penitentiaries, these groups are referred to as Inmate Disruptive Groups. What is the reasoning of this? One reason may be that to admit of their existence leads to their legitimacy of sorts. This would give them more perceived influence, and thus power, and thus appeal to other inmates if the gangs were called gangs, or if prisons officially recognized their gangs by names. The fact is that no matter what they may be called, prison gangs do exist and hold influence over the inner workings of a prison, whether it be state or federal, new or old. In the spirit of starting from the beginning, before discussing the relationship between prison and gangs, let us explore the reason behind street gangs and prison gangs.

The first street gangs in the US may have started around the time of American independence, but they didn’t grow into serious justifiably definable street gangs until the early 1800’s. Why did this happen? For the first part there was an influx of immigrants. Immigrants of this time were poor and gathered in poor urban areas, and lived together in order to form communities of sorts. Whether because of discrimination between the Americans and the immigrants or between the various immigrant groups concentrated within cities, conflict grew between groups. As conflict grew, people formed street gangs, that stole and fought, for protection and survival (Howell & Moore, 2010).

Hispanic gangs in the greater Los Angeles area were also follow this trend and started in high-density areas with populations of people...
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