Colleen M. Clower
Fall 2008 CJS 113 - Penology
Gangs in Prisons and Jails: Temporary Phenomenon or Management Nightmare * Gangs in prisons and jails in the United States have been around for many decades. A prison gang is defined as, “any gang (where a gang is a group of three or more persons who recurrently commit crime, and where the crime is openly known to the group) that operates in prison” (Knox, 2005). Also in prison are Security Threat Groups (STG’s) which is “a any group of three or more persons with recurring threatening or disruptive behavior (i.e., violations of the disciplinary rules where said violations were openly known or conferred benefit upon the group would suffice for a prison environment), including but not limited to gang crime or gang violence (i.e., crime of any sort would automatically make the group a gang, and as a gang in custody it would logically be an STG)” (Knox, 2005). In addition, some jurisdictions call the Security Threat Group a ‘Disruptive Group’. Are gangs in prisons and jails really a temporary phenomenon or a management nightmare?
In the 1940’s, prison gangs developed within the prison system in California, Texas and Illinois, they were low-key, discreet, and stealthy. During the 1960’s and 1970’s prison gangs became known for their violence and as “Traditional Prison Gangs” (Walker, 1999-2008). There were five gangs, which are Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerilla Family, La Nuestra Familia, Mexican Mafia, and Texas Syndicate. These gangs formed in the California correctional system and were for protection against predatory inmates. In addition, racketing, black market, and racism became factors in forming the gangs. Beside the five traditional prison gangs, other gangs formed that were less known but equally as violent. These less known gangs would align themselves with other prison gangs of similar culture and/or criminal beliefs. Sometimes the non-traditional gangs were sub-chapters of a traditional gang with the leader permission.
Prison gangs are spreading across the country. As prison and jail incarceration increase so has the number of gang members over the past ten years. The prison gangs are reaching outside of the prisons to organize and control crime in the streets. Prison gangs are highly organized, with sophisticated rules and regulation. Gang members are in this recycle process (see figure to the left). In 1991, “6% of inmates belonged to a gang before entering prison” (USDOJ, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995). By 2004, the percentage had increased. The percentage of inmates entering prison belonging to a gang was “25.9 percent for males and 6.28 percent for females” (Knox, 2005). It is estimated that “11.6 percent males and 3.7 percent females” (Knox, 2005) will join a gang while in prison or jail.
There are several reasons why one would join a gang. The main reason is for “POWER” (Farmer & Waters, 1992). Another reason for joining a gang is for protection. Sometime one might join a gang for the sense of belonging and caring due to no father figure, failure, and starving for attention and affection. In addition, some are force to join a gang through violent threats.
The number of gang members in individual prison systems represents a small proportion. “In a 2002 national survey of state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Criminal Justice Institute revealed a total of 15,393 prison gang members” (Trulson, Marquart, & Kawucha, 2006). The survey indicated that most states had less than 1,000 gang members while California and Texas each had more than 5,000 (70 percent). The top prison gangs based on representation of inmates, is provided in the table below. Of the more dangerous gangs or The Top Ten Prison Gangs or Gangs in Prison in America (Trulson, Marquart, & Kawucha, 2006)| 1.| Crips (78...