Introduction to Gangs in America

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That is, this chapter is not able to assist individuals or groups in determining who is or is not in a gang. Instead, this chapter is designed to help individuals understand the structure of gangs, examples of gangs and gang members, and gang members and their victimization or victimizers. Gangs do not have a universal, specific structure McGloin, Generally, gangs have a loose structure. Many gangs may only last for a short period of time i.

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When gangs are operational, they often function using a traditional, hierarchical structure. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while. Holmes, Richard Tewksbury, George E. No cover image. Read preview. Synopsis Gangs have long been a social and criminal threat to society.

Introduction to Gangs in America explains how gangs are addressed as a criminal justice and public policy problem, providing a student-friendly, easily accessible, concise overview of the role, place, structure, and activities of gangs in American society. The book describes what gangs are, what differentiates them from each other, how they share similarities, and how they fit into contemporary American culture.

And those who were peripherally involved exhibited more violent behavior and misconduct than those who were unaffiliated. Gaes , et. In gang-dominated prisons, gangs rule the roost. Which inmates eat at what times and where they sit in the dining hall, who gets the best or worst job assignments in the prison, who has money and nice clothes, who lives and who dies - all of these things, and others, are determined by gangs in the prison. Their very presence requires special attention from prison authorities.

A survey elicited information on prison gangs from representatives of adult state correctional institutions in the U. In , two-thirds of the facilities had disciplinary rules that prohibited gang recruitment. About half of respondents believed that 'no human contact' inmate status [being placed in solitary] was ineffective in controlling gang members.

Knox , Prison staff, too, may be participants in or potential victims of the prison gang culture. As participants, they may be actively or passively involved. As active participants they may collude with inmate gang members by providing alibis, providing opportunities for the commission of certain crimes, or taking bribes or payment for their silence or other form of assistance. As passive participants in prison gang activity they may simply "overlook" an incident or situation or neglect their duty just long enough for the gang members to do what it is that they wanted to do.

In either case, prison staff are not immune to the negative influence of prison gangs. As victims of gang activity they may be threatened, harassed, extorted, physically or sexually assaulted, or murdered. About one-sixth of the institutions reported that gang members had assaulted correctional staff members, and about half reported that gang members had threatened corrections officers. Two-thirds of all institutions were providing gang training to their correctional officers by Approximately , inmates were released from American prisons in the year Some of them were diehard gang members.

Upon being discharged from prison when one's full sentence has been served or released early on parole , prison gang members move back into society. Unless they recant their gang membership, they are likely to continue their gang activity. Their impact on a community may be measured by their continued criminal activity, the harm they inflict upon their victims and their participation in already existing community-based gangs.

As you may know, there are both state prisons and federal prisons. Generally speaking, state prisons confine people who have been convicted of violating state law while federal prisons confine people who have been convicted of violating federal laws. As we will see in another section of Into the Abyss , several states and the federal government have enacted laws which enhance or lengthen the sentences of convicted gang members.

Not only are there gang members in prison, but due to their proven gang affiliation they are sometimes sentenced to longer prison terms. Given what's happening in most of America's prisons, the longer exposure may only make the problem worse. What do prison gang members do?

U.s. Gangs And The Gangs

Among the activities of inmate gang members are drug running and cell taxing - charging to occupy a given cell. Some cells are designated by inmates as being for Caucasian inmates while others are designated for African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and so on. Cell residents may be taxed because the cells are far from the security stations at the end of the cellblock.

I was told that "The dope heads drug users like to be away from the security folks. There are usually televisions in prison cellblocks and a Hispanic inmate may be taxed for his cell because it is close to the television that is set on a Spanish-speaking station or an English- speaking inmate because it is located near an English-speaking station - whatever the inmate prefers and is willing to pay for. Some cells are closer to the TV than others and that may cause a cell tax to be imposed.

Some prisons have rooms set aside for the sole purpose of television viewing. In one prison I visited, the administrator said "We have several TV rooms and all but one of them is owned by the blacks. Only certain blacks, depending on their gang affiliation, can use certain rooms unless there's some popular athletic event being shown - then all of them cram in to watch.

Many inmates find it difficult to survive in prison unless they are affiliated with a gang.

Gangs of New York ''Fight Scene''

But there's a twist. The twist may be best explained using an analogy. Do you remember a game called Rock, Scissors, Paper? It's a game kids play using hand signs. Each player chooses rock, scissors, or paper without telling the other players their choice. Then each child displays their chosen hand sign at the same time.

Rock is symbolized by a clenched fist and rock beats scissors. Paper is shown by holding out an open hand with fingers all touching side by side. If we stop the game there I can use this as an analogy that helps describe the gang situation in prison. In the analogy "rock" is race or ethnicity, "scissors" is a gang, and "paper" is an inmate who is not gang affiliated. Inmates who are not affiliated with a gang are often in peril in a prison setting.

They have no one who will come to their aid if they are assaulted or extorted and no one who will join them in retaliation. There are a few exceptions to this rule. The exceptions include inmates who have organized crime connections on the outside, and those who are knowledgeable about the law and may, therefore, be valued for their ability to help other inmates write legal briefs for their appeals.

There are other inmates who are basically left alone because they are seriously ill or very old, and inmates who are so physically powerful or out of their minds that few inmates will assault them. Most inmates, however, are vulnerable. In our analogy the next class of inmates are the gang members - scissors. They assault non-gang members - those who are "paper" in our analogy, and rival gang members. According to one federal prison administrator, "About one-third of my prison's one thousand seven hundred inmates are not in a gang.

The unaffiliated are often extorted by gang inmates and used in other ways.

Mafia of the Poor: Gang Violence and Extortion in Central America

Then there are the rocks - the racial and ethnic groups. They beat all. That is, African-American inmates who are Crips, Bloods, Black Gangster Disciples, or whatever their name, are faced with a new enemy - groups of non-African-Americans. In most instances this means they need protection from Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic inmates in the prison.

Rock beats scissors. The hatred fostered by various racial and ethnic groups against one another can drive previously conflicting gangs and their members together in the prison setting. Solidarity occurs in the face of the larger threat to their well being. Remember - this is about federal prisons where inmates come from all over the country, and from other countries.

Introduction to Gangs

His remarks concerning gang conflicts based upon faith or religious concerns sounded similar to the conflicts I witnessed in England between the Sikh and Muslim youth and other religious groups. One of the federally incarcerated, gang-member inmates I interviewed said "White men in prison see the white gang bangers as niggers and, because of that, they put them through the test.

Either they become Arian Nation [an exclusively Caucasian white supremacist gang] or other pro-white or they're beat up pretty bad. Managing Gangs in a Prison Setting. One of the federal prisons I visited had 1, inmates. Eight hundred of them were documented gang members and proud of their gang affiliation. They represented several different nations of gangs including those that were Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, and African-American. Among them were at least 70 sets of Crips.

I interviewed the head of security for the prison. His office walls were lined with wallet-size photos of every gang-affiliated inmate in the prison. The pictures were grouped by gang name and set and each picture had the gang members' moniker written on it. Some of the pictures were upside down. I asked about them and was told "Oh, those? Those are the ones who've been acting like assholes lately.

Our conversation drifted to the subject of administrating in a prison with so many gang members. We spend more time working on gangs than anything else. We have to document them, control conflicts within gangs and between gangs, we have to know their tattoos and what they mean, we have to watch out who we put [in a cell, in a dining hall, or at work] with who, we have to monitor their calls and movements.

The Influence of Geography and Social Networks on Gang Violence

It just takes a lot of time. 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. Fleisher and Decker , 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 "deganging" 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.

Source , copied from the Internet on 6 March 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 Judson , and reducing the influence of gang leaders by moving them to different prisons or centralizing them in one prison. Carlson , According to Buentello, the Texas prison system now has.

Last year, out of about 6, gang-affiliated inmates in the system, we had only who indicated they wanted to disassociate from a gang. As time goes by and gang-affiliated inmates see there is an established program for getting away from the gang life, it is becoming more acceptable to participate in it. They don't feel as threatened by other gang-affiliated inmates who don't want to disassociate. The gang renunciation program takes nine months to complete and includes substance abuse intervention, anger management classes, cognitive skills development, and some faith-based introspection and treatment.

Inmates who satisfactorily complete the program are then moved from gang-related housing in the prison to a gang-free environment. At least it's as gang-free as possible. We simply had to develop some kind of program. In we had two Security Threat Groups gangs at war and fifty-two inmates were killed in one year. One correctional officer was also killed in a gang-related incident that year.

The situation is much better now that we have the gang renunciation program in place. Salvador Buentello, telephone interview, 28 November, There's not a great deal of literature on gang defection while in prison, but one article caught my attention and speaks to some interesting aspects of this phenomenon. Fong, et al. Here are some of his findings. All respondents reported no previous participation in street gangs; their active participation in prison gangs before defection was 3. Prison gangs are organized along paramilitary lines, and the majority of respondents never held any rank beyond that of "soldier.

Additional analyses revealed that only 12 of the respondents admitted to having committed gang-related violence. Given that the commitment to the prison gang is expected to last a lifetime, with death being the punishment for defection, it is surprising that most of the respondents left their gangs for the relatively inane reason of having lost interest in it.

Fong, Vogel, and Buentello , 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. 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. As a result of their incarceration, gang members from different cities within the same state will continue to meet, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

If they are of the same race or ethnicity, they may join forces with gangs they would never have associated with on the street. And what happens when they return to the streets? Will they bring their new alliances to the gangs from which they were taken when arrested? Is that already happening? Robert Yager recently wrote about the impact of Los Angeles gang members who are returning to Los Angeles on parole. Criminologists point to two reasons for the city's [Los Angeles] upsurge in violence. First, veteran gang members jailed a decade ago during the crack epidemic are getting out of prison - and returning to reinfect their neighborhood with violent habits hardened and reinforced in prison.

His research points to returning felons as a major reason for the spike in shootings across Los Angeles. There are , gang members in jail in California and they are getting out at a rate of about 3, a month, according to the state's department of corrections. This year alone will see more than 30, veteran gang members back on the streets. Yager , , p. The second reason for the increase in violence in Los Angeles has to do with police corruption. Due to the corruption, police have "backed out" Yager , , p. As gang members In the mid's, the L.

But after Rafael Perez, a rogue cop from the L. In the end, eight cops were indicted, of these, four were cleared, three pleaded to lesser crimes, and one is awaiting trial. As a result of his testimony Morale fell to an all-time low, and many cops left for police departments in other cities. The use of recently enacted federal legislation on gang members results in their incarceration in federal prisons due to their involvement with illegal drugs. There they meet offenders from around the country and the world, many of them international drug dealers, distributors, and terrorists.

What are the implications of these new associations when inmates return to the community upon release from prison? As all of 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.



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