A prison gang is a group of inmates who perform criminal activity while incarcerated and after release. Often called Security Threat Groups or STGs by officials, these gangs typically feature a strict hierarchy of internal power and often brutal methods of both discipline and retribution. There are many prison gangs worldwide; experts suggest that some effectively rule entire prison systems from within the walls of a correctional house. Some experts also suggest that gangs are sometimes tolerated by prison officials as they provide a means of unofficial discipline.
Though prison is meant to cut criminals off from a life of crime in hopes of rehabilitation, many prisons are complex dens of criminal activity. Drug trafficking, prostitution, bribery, and money laundering are all common features of prison crime. A prison gang may have an affiliation with an outside group or gang, composed of previously incarcerated members and other initiates. Using connections between inside and outside members, gang leaders can continue to run criminal operations even while in jail.
Prison gangs are often divided by race, though some may also be divided by country of organization or gang affiliations on the outside. One of the best-documented gangs, the Aryan Brotherhood, is composed of white members who mostly profess racial hatred toward African Americans. The Aryan Brotherhood has long maintained an alliance with the Mexican Mafia, due to a shared hatred for African American gangs.
Initiation into a prison gang is typically a brutal process, sometimes known as a “blood in, blood out” agreement. This means that in order to get in, an initiate must kill or severely maim another prisoner, usually from a rival gang. Prison gang memberships are usually lifetime affiliations, meaning that a person in a “blood in, blood out” agreement may be horribly beaten or killed if he wants out of the gang. By such brutal methods, the gangs retain a coerced loyalty that is often continued after a prison sentence ends.
Even non-gang affiliated inmates may find themselves desperately in need of a gang membership. Non-affiliated inmates are sometimes at far more risk than gang members, as they have no form of protection within the prison. Robbery, beatings, rape, and even murder of inmates who do not belong to a gang are not uncommon, as gang members do not need to live in fear of retribution. Thus, even those that have no desire to join a gang may get involved with one simply in order to survive.
Though by stalemating one another through alliances, prison gangs may seem to keep a lid on anarchical violence, experts warn that this tenuous peace is neither desirable nor sustainable. Some officials believe the prison gang population is growing, posing ever more threats to other prisoners, prison workers, and outside civilians. Few experts can offer comprehensive solutions to ending the threat of gangs in prison, though officials often attempt to limit power by separating known gang leaders from any contact with other members.