America has Between 1.5 million and 2 million people behind bars At any given moment, that means it is imprisoning a greater percentage of its citizens than any other developed country in the world.
If you’ve never lived or worked in a prison, you really have no idea what life is like inside. If you’ve watched some reality TV show that puts you in a prison — or every TV show and movie about a prison — you still can’t really understand what a prison is like until you’ve been there yourself.
One thing that people seem to be very curious about prison life is the existence of gangs. Are there gangs in every prison? Do they really have that much power? Will gangs really fight for control and prison life for all prisoners? But, most importantly, one wonders why prisoners join prison gangs in the first place. So, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
In this blog post, I’ll cover the following topics:
- What are Prison Gangs?
- What are STGs?
- Why do prisoners join prison gangs?
- Prison gangs first appeared in the 1950s
- Have you been forced to join a gang in prison for protection?
- Can you survive the prison without joining a gang?
What are Prison Gangs?
Prison gangs come in all shapes and sizes, and definitions vary. Often, the general description of a prison gang is a group of inmates operating as a crime-oriented entity within prison walls. Prison gangs threaten — or think they threaten — the administration of prisons.
Prisoners who belong to a prison group will share similar values, norms and language. There are also different codes of conduct among members. Individual members are usually of the same race and/or ethnicity. Often, prison gangs mimic the organization and operation of street gangs.
Some white gangs include: Aryan Brotherhood, Hell’s Angels and Dirty White Boys. African-American gangs include members belonging to the Crips, Bloods, Vice Lords, DC Blacks, and Black Guerrilla Family. Some Hispanic and Latino gangs include the Mexican Mafia, La Nuestra Familia, and Latino Kings.
While some multiracial prison gangs do exist, members of gangs that are not primarily organized by race are often organized almost exclusively for economic activity, such as drug cartels.
What are STGs?
In many prisons, officials refer to the gangs as STGs – which stands for Security Threat Group. Most prison administrations work hard to keep gangs out because they do pose a serious threat to staff and other prisoners.
Correctional institutions often use various types of segregation techniques to reduce or punish different forms of gang violence. They also rely on education about gangs and violence to reduce their prevalence.
Why do prisoners join prison gangs?
Prisoners join prison gangs for several different reasons. Often, they do this to protect themselves from other prisoners, as prisons can be an extremely violent place. Some inmates rely on gang members as their surrogate family, while others do so for financial gain.
Among prison inmates, violence can be a means of gaining status from other inmates, and gangs provide both a means of perpetuating this violence and protection from unaffiliated prisoners or members of rival gangs.
in the book correct: Gangs and Violence in Prisons, the authors explain that prison violence takes the form of beatings, sexual assault, rioting and homicide. Much of the violence in prisons remains unreported, making it difficult to address the problem at the level of the individual victim.
Gangs provide protection in prisons that officers often fail to do. Larger groups also allow prisoners to trade illegal substances such as drugs more efficiently.
Status and protection are the most common reasons for joining a gang in prison, just as on the street. But ideologies also matter, such as racial supremacy or vigilantism.
Prison gangs first appeared in the 1950s
Believe it or not, prison gangs didn’t really exist until the 1950s.As David Skarbek explains in his book The social order of the underworld: How prison gangs rule America’s penal systemPrisons were run on the unwritten principles of the Criminal Code until gangs started taking over.
At its most basic, the Prisoner Code “states that prisoners must not help prison or government officials with disciplinary matters or provide them with information, especially information that could be used against other prisoners. This worked when the prison was small Already: Horrible stigma, ostracism and beatings limit violence.”
But once America’s prison population began to grow in the mid-20th century, prisoners could no longer rely on the Criminal Code to keep them safe. As the number of violent prisoners increases, prisons become more dangerous. Race and tattoos became useful ways of identifying true allies among prison populations.
According to the University of Colorado, “prison gangs mass incarceration in the 1980s. “
Their study found that Texas prisons were “essentially gang-free until bloody battles broke out in 1984-85 between the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate, and between the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mandingo Warriors.” 52 inmates at 21 months murdered during the period known as War times“
Have you been forced to join a gang in prison for protection?
In my experience, prisoners are not forced to join gangs. In some prisons, gangs have no power. In other ways, they do have influence. But no gang can control prison life with an iron fist.
Gang members make up only about 20 percent of the country’s prison population, yet they are able to wield power and influence through violence. At the end of the day, though, being part of a prison gang isn’t necessary.
Can you survive the prison without joining a gang?
The general answer to this question is “yes”, you can definitely survive in prison without joining a gang. I’m doing fine where I’m incarcerated, but there aren’t any gangs I can join, at least that I know of.
I know that facilities located in urban areas and near street gang populations definitely have more gang activity. Survival depends on the situation and facility.
Studies in Texas state prisons show that about 10 percent of inmates join a gang when they first leave prison. Another 10 percent imported their gang affiliations from the street. Still, most inmates don’t end up joining gangs. That’s true, though it’s harder to avoid gangs in prison than on the street.
Will you join gang in prison to survive prison life? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Corrections Gangs and Violence in Prisons We spoke to hundreds of prison gang members – here's what they said about life behind bars Why Prisoners Join Gangs 5 facts behind America's high incarceration rate