When people think of prisons, they generally think of a place where criminal offenders are sent for punishment and rehabilitation. It is essential, though, to know how prisons have changed over time and the extent of their challenges- currently, one of the main challenges is prison gangs and the danger of violence they present to inmates and staff alike. Dating back to 1950 in Washington state, traces of prison gangs emerged and developed in other areas of the country (Camp, 1985). In the past, prisoners lived by the “Convict Code,” where prisoners would enforce their own rules, and anyone who violated those rules could be shunned or beaten. Prisoners would know the reputations of each other. Whom they could trust or who must be punished for infractions- however, this worked well mainly with small populations of homogenous groups with similar. Once mass incarceration increased through the 1960s and then even more dramatically in the 1980s, the “Convict Code” failed to keep prison life as there was an increase in inmate-on-inmate violence, stabbings, and large-scale rioting (Taylor, 2019).
In 2016, Criminologists entered Texas prisons over nine months and interviewed over 800 prisoners about their time and experience in prison. According to the interviews, about half of the people interviewed were part of a prison gang; few believed that gangs brought order to prisons or made them safer, which is a claim often made. Instead, gangs undermine security by trafficking drugs and weapons, competing to control housing areas, or even seducing staff to ignore or help inmates violate prison rules. There have been multiple attempts to fight against gang activity and membership, but few have been met with any success. Tactics such as solitary confinement were believed to be the answer to preventing gang activity. However, it is a short-term solution that may do more harm than good, as there is evidence of adverse effects of solitary confinement, and it does not address the respective characteristics of the multiple prison gangs (Pyrooz & Decker, 2021).
In order to study these prison gangs more in-depth and ascertain how to prevent gang membership and get existing members out more effectively, interviews would be the most effective tool in gathering information about the main reasons people join prison gangs: their personal and cultural background, their mindsets when they are in, the culture of the gang, what would have kept them from joining, and what they believe would get them to leave. By compiling the answers, researchers could see the most common responses and gather further information about the culture of the prisoners that make up prison gangs and the gangs themselves. This information would be beneficial to implement policies or programs that would increase the safety of inmates from prison gangs and would help rehabilitate more prisoners so that they have the proper skillsets and education for once they are released- the goal is to reduce the size and influence of prison gangs and their effects on staff and other inmates for rehabilitation to increase and violence in prison to decrease.
It will be difficult to strip a prison gang member of his gang identity as prison gang membership for those who are likely serious offenders provide a sense of belonging with others that share commonalities (Fleisher & Decker, 2001). However, a more in-depth look into the various prison gangs and interviewing a substantial sample of prison gang members would give the necessary information to improve prison policies, programs, and community care that, once implemented, would prevent gang membership and increase the amount of those who get out of gangs. This would decrease prison violence and crime behind bars, raise the quality of life and feeling of safety among other inmates and increase the chance they succeed in the community.
Prison Gang Characteristics versus Street Gangs
The first two heading levels get their own paragraph, as shown here. Headings 3, 4, and 5 are run-in headings used at the beginning of the paragraph.
Forming the Gang
Why Gangs are Formed.
Once inmates are in jail, they are cut off from the outside world besides their limited phone calls or visitations.
Getting out of the Gang.
Prison Gang Rivalries
Race versus Race.
Effects of Prison Gangs and Rehabilitation
Programs for Gangs
Recidivism of prison Gang Members
Camp. (1985). Prison gangs – their extent, nature and impact on Prisons. Prison Gangs – Their Extent, Nature and Impact on Prisons | Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/prison-gangs-their-extent-nature-and-impact-prisons
Fleisher, M. S., & Decker, S. H. (2001). Going Home, Staying Home: Integrating Prison Gang Members into the Community. Corrections Management Quarterly, 5(1), 65.
Gundur, R. V. (2019). Negotiating violence and protection in prison and on the outside: The organizational evolution of the Transnational Prison Gang Barrio azteca. International Criminal Justice Review, 30(1), 30–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/1057567719836466
INFANTE, ARYNNA., MORSE, STEPHANIE J., FAHMY, CHANTAL, & WRIGHT, KEVIN A. (2023). Racial politics in the Contemporary Prison Society: The importance of race and ethnicity to prison social organization. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 50(4), 600–623. https://doi.org/10.1177/00938548221143528
Maitra, D. R. (2020). ‘If you’re down with a gang inside, you can lead a nice life’: Prison gangs in the age of austerity. Youth Justice, 20(1-2), 128–145. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473225420907974
Pyrooz, D., & Decker, S. H. (2021). We Spoke to Hundreds of Prison Gang Members-Here’s What They Said About Life Behind Bars. Corrections Managers’ Report, 26(5), 65–79.
Taylor, J. (2019, January 14). The Racial Order of Prisons. American Renaissance. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://www.amren.com/features/2014/12/the-racial-order-of-prisons/
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