How Gangs Took Over Prisons

Gangs in Prison, how does that work? When people think of gangs, they normally think of street gangs and rarely know what happens after members of street gangs are took off the street and are imprisoned. These members enter the prison and develop or enter gangs inside of prison which are considered prison gangs. Research suggests that prison gangs are criminal organizations that originate within the penal system (Fleisher & Decker, 2001).

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These criminal organizations have continued to operate within correctional facilities throughout the United States.

So, to break that down in layman terms, prison gang consists of individuals who have been sentenced for crimes they have committed and for many reasons have decided while incarcerated to be in a criminal organization while they serve their time inside the prison.

Prison gangs are also self-perpetuating criminal entities that can continue their operations outside the confines of the penal system (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). Typically, a prison gang consists of a select group of inmates who have an organized hierarchy and who are governed by an established code of conduct.

Prison gangs vary in both organization and composition, from highly structured gangs such as The Bloods and Crips, Mexican Mafias, Heramnos de Pistoleros Latinos, The Aryan Brotherhood, and Public Enemy Number One just to name a few (Valdez, 2009).

Prison gangs are responsible for half of the violence that erupts in the penal system. Studies show that prison gang members were on cumulative 3 percent of the prison population but caused 50 percent or more of the violence that goes in prison (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). This violence occurs because of the different gang organizations in prison and these gangs member fight over “Turf” and turf wars begin. Turf wars occur when gang members and non-gang members are packed together with limited or few options to retreat to a safe and or neutral spot (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). When this happens it creates tension within the penal system and has an adverse effect on the prison quality of life and overall inmate well-being. So how do we control prison gang growth and influence?

Prisons around the United States have tried many methods on controlling violence and combating the rise of prison gangs. Prison gangs make running prison hard on the employees and the safety of other inmates. There are several ways or methods prison officials use to control the growth and influence of prison gangs. One being overt and covert strategies. According to studies, prison officials have tried several varieties of overt and convert strategies (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). What are overt and convert strategies? Overt means something is done openly or to show something openly for one to be aware while covert means the opposite where something is not displayed or openly acknowledged for one to be aware. Let’s be honest overt and convert strategies sounds like an effective way to tackle prison gangs. This method provides prison officials means to implement policies or procedures both secretly and openly without prisoners knowing intel on everything.

Another common practice to control growth and influence in prison is by separating certain inmates or using segregation units. Separating inmates sounds very high schoolish but let’s face it many inmates don’t take being incarcerated serious and act out as if they are children or teenagers in high school who haven’t quite figured out life yet, so they act out for their peers for fun. When the issue at hand is something simple or not a major threat, an inmate is simply separated from the source of the problem for maybe a couple of days or weeks but when serious issues occur prison officials will enforce the use of segregation units. Segregation units are used when the treat of inmate lives are high and when officials are aware of gang activity and choose to segregate all involved (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). A lot of times prison officials will locate the gang or gangs involved and go for gangs’ leaders first. Why? Gang members act off commands that are delegated by gang leaders so gang leaders are the primary source threat and must be moved immediately.

Segregation and influence go hand and hand. When gang leaders and members of gangs are segregated their influence on other inmates or gang members are limited. Segregation units house inmates in smaller prison cells for at least 23 hours a day with limited to no interaction with other inmates or normal daily activities or recreation (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). Prison officials haven’t completely tackled gang growth and influence but have took several steps in the right direction to control and limit it. Although gang activity still occurs and segregation at times does not solve the problem. Prison officials in prisons across the United States are making changes that are reproducing positive effects.

There are many different prison gangs and a lot of them start at the street level and evolve in prison for various reasons. According to several studies, there are at least five major prison gangs who each have their own structure and purpose (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). I will discuss two whom are well known and have a major influence in prisons across the United States. The Mexican Mafia is a Latino-based gang that originally formed around 1957 in Tracey California at the Duel Vocational Institution (Valdez, 2009). The Mexican Mafia was originally founded by thirteen inmates who before prison were active members of the Latino street gangs from various neighborhoods around the Los Angeles California area (Valdez, 2009). In order to gain entrance into these gangs, one will have to have a sponsor whom must be a current and active member (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). The gang symbol for the Mexican Mafia is a picture of a bloodied black five figured hand with the letters E M E under the bottom of the hand. According to gang members the five fingers represent, terror, vengeance, death, valor, and silence (Valdez, 2009). Members of the Mexican Mafia get the gang symbol to prove their membership and loyalty to the gang. A lot of the gang members tattoo their right hand with the word “EME”, to make sure it is visible to outsiders and other gang affiliations.

As mentioned before the Mexican Mafia gang are in prisons worldwide and but majority of their members are in California. Currently the Mexican Mafia are in all parts of southern California (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). Each member of the Mexican Mafia undergoes a blood oath to prove his or her loyalty. Members of the gang are involved in many criminal activities. These activities include drug trafficking and major conflict with rival gangs. Rival gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood (Valdez, 2009). The Aryan Brotherhood is another dangerous gang in prisons across the United States. The Aryan Brotherhood or AB is a Caucasian-based gang that was started in 1960s by white supremacist (Valdez, 2009). This gang started in California’s San Quentin prison by Caucasian inmates who wanted to combat the racial threat of Hispanic and African American inmates (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). At that time members of the AB gang had slanted perceptions of African American inmates whom were taking advantage of other white inmates prompting many to form and or join the Aryan Brotherhood (Fleisher & Decker, 2001).

Joining the Aryan Brotherhood can with a substantial price. The AB requires incoming members to serve a probationary period of 6 months and blood shed or initiation (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). The AB gang is involved in many criminal activities, one being the traffic of drugs. The AB gang lives by the “Blood in Blood out” motto. This motto means the only way to enter is with blood and the only way to exit is also with blood with natural death being the only nonviolent way out (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). The AB member council is well structured. The prison structure consists of a three-member council of only high-ranking members. The AB gang has several different tattoos. A cloverleaf, lighting bolts, swastika, the letters AB, and the number 666 are commonly know AB tattoos (Valdez, 2009). Also, many are known to also have the phrases “White Power”, “Supreme White Pride, or “White Pride” (Fleisher & Decker, 2001) under the tattoo symbols.

Both the Mexican Mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood are dangerous gangs. Both have many dedicated members who are willing to do anything for their gang at any cost. That cost can be more prison time added to a current sentence and even death. These two criminal organizations both distribute drugs inside prisons which causes major problems within the penal system. The illegal activities these two gangs are involved in intends to bring members of both together for protection which then ups the population of their gangs. Any gang affiliation whether it’s the Mexican Mafia or the Aryan Brotherhood is very dangerous and causes many issues for not only the penal system but for other inmates and prison staff. Studies show that American imprisons men and women with ease and in very large numbers. Of course, with an increase within the prison systems problems will occur.

In conclusion, prison officials are trying daily to combat prison gangs, but change that big in nature will take time and a lot of funding that many states currently does not have available. Currently, the best way to put a dent in prison gang crime is to make sure prison staff are aware on the different gangs in prisons and aware of the threat each one poses. Prison officials should remain alert and strict on any crime that goes on inside of prisons. Going to prison doesn’t bother gang members because in prison they really become professional criminals with nothing to lose. With knowledge on prison gangs’ officials can proactively offer the needed material to the staff so they will know how to effectively handle prison gangs in the safest way possible to ensure safety for all inmates, whether gang-related or not, for their own physical safety.

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How Gangs Took Over Prisons. (2020, Nov 12). Retrieved from

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