The formulation of gangs is becoming more and more prevalent in prisons throughout the United States. According to statistics, gang activity in prisons has increased from only 9.4 percent in 1991 to 24.7 percent in 1999 and is even higher today. I worked as a corrections officer at a maximum security women’s facility in Raleigh, North Carolina as well as a medium security men’s facility in Detroit, Michigan and although both men and women are part of gangs, I must say that the numbers are much higher among male prisoners. I also noticed that both prisons were very segregated, and racism is very common in prisons. Whites stuck with other whites, blacks stuck with blacks and Hispanics stuck with other Hispanics. Despite the efforts of prison officials, racism and gangs still exist and probably always will.
Why form gangs in prison?
Prison can be a brutal place to be, and many inmates decide to join gangs as a way to ensure protection and security. If a rival gang threatens a member of another gang, the other gang will protect that particular member by confronting the gang that made the threat. Even though inmates are constantly searched for contraband, they are quite resourceful when it comes to obtaining and even creating weapons by using various materials. Inmates, especially those who are in gangs, don’t hesitate to use weapons when involved in disputes with other gangs. With some gang members serving life sentences, many feel they have nothing to lose and will even commit numerous murders using these weapons.
Popular gang names
Prison gangs go by various names, with many gangs evolving from others. One popular and fairly new white supremacist gang that originated in California in the 1990s, the Nazi Lowriders, are full of hate and don’t exist simply as a means of protection, but often exist in order to terrorize and “get rid of” other races. Nazi Lowrider members are often involved in the use and distribution of methamphetamines, which is known to sometimes cause highly volatile behavior, making them more likely to brutally murder inmates of other races.
The Mexican Mafia is a popular gang that formed in the 1950s among Department of Corrections inmates in California penitentiaries. This gang’s members are primarily Mexican-American, and one of their main goals is to control drug trafficking in prison. Despite the fact that the Mexican Mafia originated in the state of California, the gang has become very popular in other state prison as well, and even federal prisons.
The Black Guerilla Family Prison Gang originated in 1966 in the state of California, evolving from the Black Mafia and the Black Panthers. The goals of this gang are to end racism, maintain a sense of self-respect, and defy the government. Due to the fact that this gang’s members are anti-government, they often have difficulty following rules enforced within the prison, resulting in various levels of disruptive behavior and violence.
What do gang members do?
Aside from fighting, gang members in prisons often have additional purposes. One major purpose of prison gangs is to make large amounts of money trafficking drugs. Many may think that this is impossible since the inmates are behind bars, but this has been a major problem for quite some time. Corrections officers are even sometimes part of these drug rings just to make extra money. Not all prison gangs participate in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, and some gangs only exist as a form of protection. These gangs actually hang out together and develop meaningful relationships with one another, but if problems arise with rivals, these gang members will not hesitate to become physical in whatever way they feel is necessary.
How can gangs be stopped?
It would be nearly impossible to stop all gang activity in prisons unless all prisons were completely segregated, which would never happen. Even if there were some way to totally segregate prisoners, gangs in prison would still exist. There will always be fighting and killings among inmates, even among those of the same race, and many gang members are rivals with gang members of the same race. In most prisons, gangs are illegal, but this obviously doesn’t stop them from being formed.
Almanac of policy issues – www.policyalmanac.org/crime/archive/gang_facts.shtml
Gangs Or Us – www.gangsorus.com/prisongangs.html
ADL – www.adl.org/issue_combating_hate/nazi_low_riders.asp