Some people say that prisons are nothing more then a microcosm of society today, which unfortunately includes gangs. Much like their counterparts on the street prison gangs are known to be extremely violent, dangerous organizations that can severely threaten the security of the institution. Because of this fact it is important for these correctional institutions to not only understand what gangs are present within their institution, how these gangs operate and recruit, but also what types of activities the gang is engaged in both on the street and within the institution. This actionable intelligence allows the institution to focus its security efforts toward thwarting gang activity within the facility, thus increasing the security of everyone within the institution.
Throughout this paper we will explore five different prison gangs in depth. We will examine who the founder of the gang was, types of activities that these gangs are involved in, what prisons the gangs are strongest presence in, and whether the gang is growing or declining in size. Finally we will look at what type of security threat the gangs pose to the correctional institutions in which they thrive. The Aryan Brotherhood
The first gang that we will discuss is the gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood. Two men named Barry Mills and Tyler Bingham, while they were incarcerated in the San Quentin state prison in California initially founded this gang in 1964 (Prison Offenders, 2009). The men created this gang as a way for white inmates to protect each other from other racial inmate groups and gangs who were praying on them. From the beginning this groups core philosophy revolved around belief that the white race was supreme, and should assert its dominance over all other races by whatever means necessary (Prison Offenders, 2009). This sentiment stemmed from some of the members Neo-Nazi beliefs and behavior. As time has however, the gang started to distance themselves from the Neo-Nazi belief structure in favor of embracing the white Irish heritage of many of their members (Prison Offenders, 2009). Still there is a strong connotation of Nazi ideology within the gang today. Today the gang’s normal activities include those, which are likely to help them obtain money. These include extortion, drug trafficking/ sales, prostitution and murder for hire (Barnhart, 2009). This lust for money has even prompted the gang to perform murders for other gangs like the Mexican Mafia, in return for money, which seem as though it would be contradictory to the gang’s allegiance to their own race (Dufresne, 2012).
Overall the membership of the Aryan Brotherhood throughout the United States continues to grow at an alarming rate, with their largest strong holds noted to be in both California and Texas. However the gang has cultivated membership “cells” in nearly every state, with it smallest following being areas such as the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana due in part to their smaller overall and prison populations (Discovery, 2012). Within the prison that they are represented, the Aryan Brotherhood performs many of the same criminal activities that they do on the street, up to and including murder for hire (Dufresne, 2012). They are also heavily involved in trafficking contraband items into the prisons, for sale and personal use. These items include narcotics, weapons and cell phones, which have become a huge problem within correctional institutions throughout the United States ant the world. One of the best examples of how dangerous and violent this gang is within the prison system can be illustrated by a violent murder committed by an Aryan Brotherhood member in the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona. The member involved attacked another inmate in his cell, choking him unconscious, slamming his head off the concrete and then stomping on his head until he died (ADL,2009). This is just one example of the gang’s extremely violent practices, both in correctional institutions and on the street. The Black Guerilla Family
It seems only fitting after exploring the violent exploits of the Aryan
Brotherhood, that the next gang to be evaluated is that of the Black Guerilla Family (a sworn enemy of the Aryan Brotherhood). A man named George Jackson initially founded this dangerous gang in 1966 while in the California prison system (Streetgang#1, 2009). It was initially comprised of members from some other gangs that were present during that time (Streetgang#1, 2009). This gangs is profiled to be the most politically oriented of all of the major prison gangs within the United States and at its core are said to be Marxist, Leninist and Maoist beliefs (gangs#1, 2011). One of the gang’s main goals, which conform to these beliefs, is their wish to overthrow the United States government, while eliminating racism in the process (gangs#1, 2011). When it comes to geographic coverage of the Black Guerilla Family, they are most prevalent on both the East and West coasts of the United States, with smaller groups scattered throughout the rest of the country (gangs#1, 2011).
Throughout the 1990s the gang’s membership numbers and recruitment began to dwindle, however as of recent years has began to rapidly increase yet again (Streetgang#1, 2009). This recent rapid growth has been attributed to the fact that the gang has aligned themselves with a number of other large gangs. These gangs are known to include the 415’s, The Bloods and the Crips just to name a few (gangs#1, 2011). On the “inside”, The Black Guerilla Family essentially continues the same criminal activities that they normally engage in when they are on the streets. These activities include extortion, narcotics importation and murder of other inmates. These criminal acts have been highlighted recently by one of the gang’s members, who was also working as a prison guard, being arrested, convicted and sent to prison for acts she committed while working as a guard. According to reports this “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, was not only importing narcotics into the prison in which she worked (which were given to other gang members), but she was also bringing them cell phones as well.
The guard was even said to have been allowing rival gang members to fight inside the institution, while attempting to out members who might be working with police as informants (Streetgangs #1, 2009)! These actions highlight one of many examples, as to how this gang’s activity can endanger the security of a correctional institution. Another issue that is of concern to any correction institution is the fact that one of the gang’s core beliefs revolves around their anti-government/ official mentality. This can pose serious risks for correctional staff within the institution, which have to handle these gang members on a daily basis (gangs#1, 2011). The Folk Nation
The next prison gang that we will discuss is known as The Folk Nation. This gang is actually an alliance of many different gangs, which came together as the result of an idea from a man name Larry Hoover. Mr. Hoover, who was the leader of the Black Gangster Disciples, was serving a lengthy sentence in the Illinois department of corrections system when he decided to try and create the new gang (Gangs#2, 2011). Hoover believed that he could be the ultimate leader of this new organization that would place him at the top of all of the gangs within the Illinois prison system (Gangs#2, 2011). However due to the high number of individual prison gangs within the Illinois DOC system this became a difficult mission to accomplish. What ended up happening was that some of the gangs ended up forging an alliance under Hoovers new gang name known as The Folk Nation, while many of the remaining gangs created their own new alliance known as The Peoples Nation (Idaho, 2012). These two gang groups have a strong and absolute hatred for the other. Hoover, who had already been the leader of one of the aligned gangs within the new Folk Nation, subsequently became the leader of the Folk nation.
Because of this he was convicted of running a criminal enterprise from prison and was sentenced to six life terms in prison, on top of his original 200-year sentence for a murder he was convicted of in 1973 (Gangs#2, 2011). Like many other prison gangs the Folk Nations main function is the protection members and the protection/expansion of their criminal enterprises like drug sales. Their members will fight extensively with their rivals from the Peoples Nation for control of certain areas or “turf”, in which they often sell illegal drugs (Gangs#2, 2011). The Folk Nations primary strong hold is well known to be in the Midwest, around the area where they were created in Illinois. However they have propagated elsewhere throughout the United States such as the south, to a small extent. That being said it is difficult to determine if the gang is truthfully growing due to the fact that it is comprised of many other individual gangs. When it comes to the gang’s criminal activities inside prison, more often then not it revolves around the drug trade much like their M.O. on the street. They can however have a propensity toward violence, especially when it comes interactions with their rivals or disciplining their own members (FLDC, 2010). One of the biggest dangers that correctional institutions have to deal with when it comes to Folk Nation members being incarcerated within their facilities is the fact that their members are rivals with so many other gangs. This poses the threat of considerable violence within the facility between these rival gangs. This can produce some serious issues if the inmates are not correctly classified during intake, and housed appropriately (Bartollas, 2002).
The Mexican Mafia
The next extremely dangerous prison gang that we will examine is the Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme. This gang was established in 1957 at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, California that was a correctional institution for the worst of the worst youthful offenders. The founder of this gang was an offender named Luis Flores, who was originally a member of a gang called the Hawaiian Gardens Gang. Flores attempted to model the Mexican Mafia after the Sicilian Mafia (Savelli, Valdemar, 2007). However like The Folk Nation, The Mexican Mafia is a gang that is comprised of gang members and leaders from multiple different gangs. Initially the gang attempted to recruit only the most violent members of these other gangs, who were known to have a criminal background (Savelli, Valdemar, 2007). Flores wanted to do this so that he had the best criminal “team”, to take over power within the prison system. Another of the gang’s main functions is just like many others, in that they subscribe to the idea ethnic solidarity with members of the Hispanic race (Gangs#3, 2011). With its roots and membership being centered on Hispanic individuals, it should be no surprise to understand that The Mexican Mafia’s largest strongholds are in the California prison systems and the Texas prison systems (Gangs#3, 2011). As such their membership levels are often smaller in areas whose prisons have lower Hispanic inmate populations such as Alaska. When it comes to the overall “health” of the gang, La Eme is very strong and growing quickly today despite attempts by law enforcement to curtail its growth. One of the largest ways that the gang has expanded is through alliances with other gangs.
Two of the most notable alliances forged with the Mexican Mafia include the Sureño gang, and the Aryan Brotherhood (Gangs187, 2010). When it comes to The Mexican Mafia’s criminal activity inside correctional institutions, like most gangs they follow their normal operations. These include but are not limited to extortion, drug trafficking and murder for hire. In fact the Aryan Brotherhood is well known to utilize Mexican Mafia members to carry out contract killings for them, both inside the facility and on the street (Gangs187, 2010). This is because of the fact that La Eme members are known to be extremely violent and efficient killers, who will complete their mission regardless of their own safety or possible legal consequences (Gangs187, 2010). This is because the members are not afraid of the mafia are not afraid of law enforcement officials or the ramifications of their own criminal actions. This makes them very dangerous and an extreme security risk to any correctional institution. MS13
Leaving possibly the most violent prison gang for last, we will discuss the gang known as MS13. This gang was initially started in the early 1980’s in Los Angeles, by a group of immigrants from El Salvador (Streetgang#2). At that time they began calling themselves Mara Salvaturcha, which was later abbreviated to MS13, in which the 13 was used to pay respect to the Mexican Mafia. Having come from El Salvador many of the new members of MS13 were experienced in guerrilla warfare techniques, which lead to MS13 becoming one of the most violent gangs in the area and has remained as such today (Streetgang#2). As members of the gang started to get arrested the gang quickly propagated into the prison systems. Today the gang continues to swell its ranks throughout the United States at what the FBI deems as a moderate rate (FBI, 2008). MS13 is known to operate in at least 42 different states with its strongest membership known to be in the western states and in the northeastern states, which is where many of the immigrants from El Salvador have settled upon entering the country (FBI, 2008). Overall the gang dabbles in nearly every aspect of criminal activity that they can possibly be a part of both inside and outside of the corrections system. Some of these offenses include drug distribution, murder, robbery and extortion, just to name a few. However in nearly everything that they do, MS13 members are known to be extremely violent especially in their murder attempts. This level of violence in and of its self presents a huge security problem for any institution where these individuals are houses, because they are so violent any altercation they get into may very well lead to a murder!
Throughout this paper we have highlighted some of the most ruthless and violent prison gangs in our great country. As we have seen their operations, members and locations might be very different, but at their core they all fight for the same exact thing, power. However for each gang the definition of power is slightly different. Some might strive for money, some for territory and some just wish to be the most feared. In their quest for power these gangs are no much different then the law enforcement officials who arrest them, and the corrections officials that incarcerate them. The main difference is that these officials seek power of a different type. That power is knowledge, and without a strong knowledge about these gangs and how they work, these officials can never hope to stay ahead of their activities. And if they cannot do that then everyone inside an institution or on the streets where these gangs operate is at risk of being their prey! References
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