3.3: Managing Gangs in a Prison Setting
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Special administrative and management techniques have been developed to deal with the conflicts which arise out of a gang presence in a prison. One correctional administrator indicated "There is a heavy emphasis on gathering gang intelligence inside and outside the prison in an effort to maintain safety and security. The correctional facility has 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 gang clientele.
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 life.
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.
Prison gangs 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.
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 "de-ganging" 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:
The department 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.
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.
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 state that:
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 and reducing the influence of gang leaders by moving them to different prisons or centralizing them in one prison.
As all 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 increased criminality.
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.
One can only guess, of course, about what the future holds in store as regards gangs in our prisons. It is certain that more gangs and gang members are appearing in prisons where, heretofore, they were seldom found. 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 future.