American Prison Gangs


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The latest statistics show that prison gangs are present in the Federal prison system and 32 state jurisdictions. Of the 33 jurisdictions experiencing the presence of prison gangs, 29 are able to identify individual gangs by name. In those 29 jurisdictions, prison officials have identified 114 gangs with an estimated total membership of 12,634. Overall, gang members make up about 3 percent of the total Federal and state prison population.

With the emergence of prison gangs, two serious conditions have developed in prisons. The first is the increased difficulty experienced by prison officials in maintaining order and discipline among inmates. The second is the rapid increase in inmate violence primarily caused by the violent nature of prison gang members and of prison gang activities such as drug trafficking, extortion, prostitution, protection, gambling, and contract inmate murders.

The statistics says that prison gangs accounted for 50 percent or more of all prison problems. However, in most jurisdictions, the absence of a gang intelligence-gathering system and the inadequate monitoring of gang activities have made it impossible to assess the exact impact of prison gangs on prison operations.

The inability to obtain information directly from active gang members is a frustrating experience shared both by researchers and prison administrators. Thus far, the only available method for intelligence-gathering has been the sole reliance on information provided by a few voluntary former gang members who are placed on the gang “death" lists and are under maximum official protection in the prisons. The collection of data for the present study also relied, to a significant extent, on the voluntary cooperation of some former members of the Texas Syndicate and the Mexican Mafia.

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