Management of prison gangs Term Paper 7 pages

management of prison gangs. Prison gangs are problematic for prisons worldwide. The gang activity, rival fights and other things present unique management needs for prison guards and administrators. The author explores several published articles for information and solutions to the gang problem in prisons.

Gangs in prisons are a growing problem. Often times when one goes to prison they find if they do not associate themselves with a gang immediately they have problems from all sides. Current gang members who enter prisons are quick to locate their gang and affiliate themselves with it. Young people who enter prison for the first time learn quickly that the fastest way to get protection from the older, tougher inmates is to join a gang. These circumstances make gang related problems a constant issue for prison administrators and guards. The management of gangs in prisons is a growing area of interest and several methods are currently being implemented.

The statistics

As reported by 44 U.S. correctional systems for this survey, the percentage of known gang members is as high as 41.2% of the inmate population in Hawaii and as low as less than 1% in Delaware and Vermont. Of the U.S. reporting systems that maintain records of known gang members, the average percentage of gang members by ethnic background is as follows: black inmates, 41.9% with a high of 99% in the District of Columbia and a low of 1% in Idaho; white inmates, 33.4% with a high of 89.5% in New Hampshire and a low of 10% in New Jersey; Hispanic inmates, 20.3% with a high of 62.7% in Texas and a low of less than 1% in Louisiana; and Asian inmates, 6.1% with a high of 30% in Maine and a low of less than 1% in Connecticut, Louisiana and New Jersey. Additional gang member ethnicities include an average of 6.4% of Native Americans, 99% Pacific Islanders in Hawaii, less than 1% of Hispanics in Louisiana and 0.25% of Polynesians in Oregon. The location of the correctional system appears to be a major factor in identifying the ethnic backgrounds of its gang members (Gangs, 2004).”

Identifying gang members in prisons

There are many ways that correctional system workers identify gang inmates as gang members. The most common identifier is the type of clothing the inmate wears. Sixty three and a sixth percent of the reporting systems do so by clothing style, 45.5% do it by shoe type and 34% do it by hairstyle or hair cut. Tattoos are used for reporting in 90% of the cases with 40% reporting the type of jewelry being worn (Gangs, 2004).

Additional identifiers that were listed include law enforcement identification, hand signs, graffiti, artwork and, in Wisconsin, by knife or gunshot wounds. Correctional Service Canada monitors all of the above identifiers (Gangs, 2004).”


Monitoring gang activity in the prison system is important for several reasons, most notably they usually involved gang criminal activity.

Noticeable areas of gang control vary among the U.S. reporting systems, but the gangs are primarily involved in drugs, as was reported by 73% of the systems. Contraband was second on the list of gang activities as was reported by 59% of the reporting systems, gambling was reported by 36%, black market activities and extortion were reported by 20% each, alcohol-related actions by 14% and control/strong-armed tactics by 11%. Protection, weapons and theft represented 5% each on the list of gang control trouble areas. Washington, D.C., also is faced with the problem of gang members reselling canteen items, Maryland gangs are involved in prostitution and Oregon has a problem with gang members charging other inmates yard fees. In an effort to restrict gang activities, separate control units are in place in 30% of the U.S. reporting systems, while none of the Canadian reporting systems has such units in place (Gangs, 2004).”

Gang activity through prison is most often tracked by a data base computer system. This insures that an inmate who is known to belong to a particular gang is in the computer data base and can be tracked if he re-offends and goes to another prison or comes back to the same one.

Also, three systems use regularly scheduled reports, incident reports and intake interviews to track gangs, and in Connecticut, Nebraska and Tennessee, gang coordinators are present in the facilities. Utah uses a graduated point system to document gang activity before the information is officially validated and logged, and Delaware refers all cases of gang-related activity to its internal affairs section. Gang activity is not tracked in either New York, which has a zero-tolerance policy, or Virginia. Correctional Service Canada shares collected information with the offender who may submit a written rebuttal prior to it being entered into a database (Gangs, 2004). ”

In addition, staff members are constantly monitoring and noting suspected and actual gang activity in the prison when they are on duty.

Staff monitor and make note of gang activity using incident reports in 39% of the U.S. reporting systems or by regularly scheduled reports in 25% of the systems, and conferring with a higher ranked staff member by 18% of the systems. Also, a number of the systems conduct investigations/interviews, hold staff briefings and monitor inmate phone, mail and e-mail use. Additionally, in Colorado, a threat-assessment report must be completed when gang activities are identified (Gangs, 2004).”


Currently there are no special rules or restrictions for dealing with gangs in an institution in a little more than a quarter of the prisons in America. In 57% of the institutions there are no physical or personal restrictions when it comes to dealing with gangs in prisons.

However, dress codes are part of the control factors used by all but Maryland, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming, limiting clothing to prison-issued uniforms is the main restriction indicated by the systems. Certain colors are restricted as well as wearing clothing in ah unauthorized manner. Also mentioned were restrictions of wearing bandanas and any clothing that depicts sexual innuendo. In Rhode Island, wearing wedding bands and/or necklaces with religious symbols is acceptable (Gangs, 2004). ”

Staff Training

Staff training when it comes to the problems of gangs in prisons is done in less than half the prison systems in the nation. Forty five percent of the U.S. reporting prisons include material that is gang related in their pre-service training for new staff members.

Such material is only included in training courses in Florida upon request, while Wisconsin offers internally developed lesson plans and outside training options. Regular classes or specialized courses are offered on an in-service basis in 64% of the U.S. reporting systems. Pennsylvania requires all staff to participate in a computer-based training course and Texas holds regional staff meetings with security threat group officers and Security Threat Management Office-sponsored statewide conferences (Gangs, 2004). An online training system is being developed in Minnesota and a New Jersey gang awareness presentation series that includes gang-member background information is offered to corrections personnel as well as law enforcement and community members. The number of training hours vary among the reporting systems from 40 hours annually in Mississippi to one hour annually in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. No specific hours are required in nine of the U.S. reporting systems (Gangs, 2004).”

The problem of prison gangs is growing. In 1996 federal reports found that there was a 400% increase in prison gang disturbances during the early 1990’s.

In states such as Illinois, as much as 60% of the prison population belong to gangs, Godwin says (Danitz, 1998). The Florida DC has identified 240 street gangs operating in their prisons. Street gangs, as opposed to gangs originating in prisons, are emerging as a larger problem on the East Coast. Of the 143,000 inmates Texas houses in state pens, 5,000 have been identified as gang members and another 10,000 are under suspicion. Texas prison-gang expert Sammy Buentello says the state’s prisons are not infested with gangs, but those that have set up shop are highly organized. “They have a paramilitary type structure;’ he says. “A majority of the people that come in have had experience with street-gang membership and have been brought up in that environment accepting it as the norm. But some join for survival (Danitz, 1998).”

Prison gangs are problematic in part because they are better organized than street gangs. For almost 100 years prison gangs have been steadily growing and ganging strength.

According to gang investigators and prisoners, the prison gangs were formed for protection against predatory inmates, but racketeering, black markets and racism became factors (Danitz, 1998).”

What prisoners may not realize is that because the gangs are monitored by prison authorities the law-enforcement community is becoming very sophisticated about the gangs. “Sixty percent of what we learn about what is going on in the city streets of Florida” is garnered in prison and not from observing the streets” according to one expert (Danitz, 1998).

Characteristics common to all the gangs around the world include:

They are organized — each group has a top leader, cell block of hall leaders, committees and soldiers;

Each has some interaction with outside contacts, such as family members, lawyers and international organizations, that serve the purposes of the gang in communications, obtaining intelligence, obtaining contraband, etc.;

They have joint canteen accounts;

They have outside support from other gang members;

They have unique identification signs;

They work to build or shape younger members;

They work in seclusion, protecting the gang from outside penetration;

They have no problem severely disciplining or killing those who collaborate with staff or other authorities;

They try to communicate with staff as much as possible through a spokesperson, maintain self-discipline and use, when possible, threats or assault to intimidate staff;

They discipline those who deviate from gang orders or dogma;

They use brutality as part of their normal way of “doing business (Hill, 2004).”


Prison gangs are a problem across the nation. Inmates enter prisons already gang members and affiliate with their organization for protection. Those who enter prison and are not gang members, quickly become one for protection. Gangs within prisons are heavily monitored and watched but problems continue to occur. Fights, rivalries and illegal activities are all problems that prison administrators face in regards to the gangs they have reported. Constant diligence and punishing of gang activities in prison will help alleviate the problem in the future.

Works Cited

The gangs behind bars.(prison gangs)

Insight on the News; 9/28/1998; Danitz, Tiffany

Gangs inside prison walls around the world.(International)

Corrections Compendium; 1/1/2004; Hill, Gary


St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 7/31/1995; Robert Goodrich; and Robert Kelly; of the Post-Dispatch Staff

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Gangs.(Survey Summary)(U.S. reporting systems)

Corrections Compendium; 1/1/2004

Busting the gangs

The Press (Canterbury, New Zealand); 9/22/1997

The Press (Canterbury, New Zealand)

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