The story is well publicized of a young man who was released after serving his time for a burglary charge only to take part in the gruesome murder of a man not long after.
Taking a step back, he had been reputed as a quite pleasant boy before being locked up, but he emerged a violent, different personality with swathes of racist tattoos from prison. He was bent on forming his own white supremacist gang, and it is no surprise that he chose to execute a black man.
By his lawyer’s admission, he had become tangled up in gang activity while in prison, trying to shield himself from the notorious violence in the Beto 1 Unit, Texas.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg that is barely even hidden, I daresay, seeing as to how proudly the members proudly flaunt the tattoos known all too well to belong to gangs. The gangs were allegedly first formed for self-protection, but have turned into custodians of order – or disarray – behind bars and crime on the streets.
This is perhaps best captured in the state of California, which houses the second highest prison population. There are mainly six prison gangs which brutally, but effectively enforce order in prison and run all manner of activity in the streets. What is most shocking is their intricate organizational systems and the loyalty they manage to get out of members.
An author, David Skarbek, recently published a book that attributes the growing state of order in California prisons to gang activity. They have the funds and power among prisoners as they move all contraband behind bars allowing them to run a brutal but effective system of order.
There is no better illustration of this than the Mexican Mafia Godfather who rose to that level after accruing his power in forty years of jail time. As more people are initiated into the gangs, their power increases and the result are widespread racism, hate, and violence.
There is not much information on the running of the gangs in prisons as the dissenters are alleged to be dealt with brutally, and the members are too loyal.
There is knowledge, however, of a strong and distinct hierarchical structure within the gangs, each having a single prisoner as the leader who embodies the gang’s values best. The reign of each leader usually does not last too long owing to transfers, but there is always the next strongest inmate to take over.
Influence within the gang flows down from the leader all the way to the powerless new recruits. To climb ranks members have to do things, mostly involving violence, to prove themselves.
Some authorities have developed different systems of handling this activity in prisons. Arizona State, for instance, discourages prison gang activity by the deportation of the leaders to other facilities across the nation where they might be in the minority. As such, they are rendered powerless.
This is not too effective since gangs tend to be regenerative, a process which breeds even more violence. The most prudent course of action might be to curb the ease with which recruitment takes place. Prison education reduces recidivism rate while working in prison helps in reentering to the society.