The Problem of Gangs and Security Threat Groups (STG’s)

in American Prisons Today:

Recent Research Findings

From the 2004 Prison Gang Survey


George W. Knox, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2005, National Gang Crime Research Center.


            This is a study of gangs and security threat groups (STG’s) in American prisons today. The purpose here is to add to the growing body of literature about gangs behind bars. The National Gang Crime Research Center (NGCRC) has made a number of contributions in this area dating back over a decade. While the last decade has witnessed a steady increase in certain of these problems, the present research reports only modest increases overall in the scope of the gang problem, but that new and potentially more explosive problems are emerging inside this arena. The current findings, representing data collected during the first half of 2004, certainly suggest that the problem has not been abated. Indeed there are some new dangerous trends documented here for the first time.

            Although correctional officials feel there are some effective strategies to win this war, these measures are not being widely implemented. Meanwhile, gangs are exploiting weaknesses in the correctional system, including abusing legislative provisions intended to protect religious rights.

            Correctional staff polled indicated problems in their awareness of legal developments, and identified education as an ongoing need; and, three years after 911, the recruitment of gang members into terror networks remains a issue.

            What can be done? What must be done? This article will present an overview of gang demographics, including gender and religious affiliation - a survey of violence - procedures, programs, etc. Finally, it will conclude with recommendations drawn from the survey data..



            The significance of prison gangs/STG’s is not limited to the effect upon the safety and security of correctional institutions. It will be argued here that the importance of studying prison gangs/STG’s also encompasses some other very important knowledge development needs. Among these other areas of importance are emerging problems related to gangs and how prison gangs/STG’s have tended to abuse religious freedoms behind bars and are also spreading hate in the name of religion.

            Among these other justifications for studying prison gangs/STG’s is tackling the related problem of “racial enmity” and “racial extremism”, indeed doing something to address the ongoing problem of racial conflict behind bars. Among the other justifications for a detailed empirical study such as that reported here, is that it helps to clarify the basis for establishing policies and procedures which address the social reality of prison life. And, of course, a study such as that reported here which gives detailed accounts of new and emerging problems related to prison gangs/STG’s may spur policy makers into providing new and sorely needed resources to the field of American corrections.

            Previous reports by the NGCRC have tended to emphasize the importance of the findings to correctional staff and officers and those who work in and around the correctional institution, and obviously to the types of risks in terms of violence and victimization inmates and prisoners face today from prison gangs/STG’s. Today, the problem affects all of society. It is not a problem just impacting only upon inmates and correctional officers. It is a problem, rather, that extends far beyond the prison walls and impacts upon larger American society.

            Given the persisting and evolving nature of this problem and its strong evidence of escalation, that unless some bold new initiatives are undertaken to reduce or reverse this problem, it could have devastating effects upon our future society. If some naive reader new to the gang literature wants an example of how a problem like prison gangs can get “out of control” and impact on the entire society, then study the “Red Command” in Brazil. In Brazil, prison gangs like the Red Command, can engineer a “parallel government”: they exert power over society just like a government, but by means of the type of terroristic threat provided by an armed violent criminal gang such as the Red Command (basically drug dealers and death merchants). At appropriate points, reference will be made to some prison gang problems in other parts of the world as it may relate by means of comparison to the American experience.

             Some academic authors who read and write about prison gangs without doing empirical research on the issue are prone to use the prison gang problem as a platform to criticize the status quo. A common theme in this “gang apologist” approach is to begin with a 1960's concept of prison rehabilitation and how wonderful the world would be if there were more services and a higher quality of life for inmates and better jobs upon release from prison, and then use the prison gang issue as just another topic to criticize the prison system. These are approaches that ignore the fact that correctional staff are good citizens working for a living and often are the ones brutally assaulted by prison gangs or STGs — this kind of information is not on the minds of the academic critic. Another theme in some university textbooks about correctional institutions that are widely in use at colleges and universities is to completely ignore the gang problem entirely, relying on dated sociological imaginations about prison life; these are particularly prone to doing a tremendous disservice to the profession of corrections by being so far removed from the social reality of modern prison life where gangs and STG’s play a dominant role when it comes to issues of violence, rackets, etc.

            Some of the best research on prison gangs has been published in the Journal of Gang Research over the last decade. Still other valuable research arises from the prison system itself, particularly the federal Bureau of Prisons. Gaes, et al (2001) reported empirical research based on federal inmates which was able to confirm some of the findings earlier reported by Stone (2000), particularly chapter 9 about a gang classification system in the Stone reader. In the Stone (2000) reader, the authors from the National Gang Crime Research Center had collected data on over 4,000 incarcerated gang members nationwide. Among other things, it demonstrated that gang members were a more significant disciplinary problem and threat generally than non-gang members behind bars. This covered fights, disciplinary reports, etc, at the individual unit of analysis and technically represented probably the single largest sample size of gang members ever developed in the previously reported literature.

            Perhaps what is important about gangs and STG’s in America today is nothing more than the promise implied or explicit that our correctional institutions will afford safe environments in which to work for the correctional officers and staff employed there, and the two million plus inmates who reside in these facilities. Few in American society know the true meaning and significance of being a “correctional officer”, indeed most commonly a somewhat derogatory term is used instead to refer to this occupational sector: “prison guards”. But many continue to marginalize these correctional officers by the label of “prison guard”, a term or phrase or identifier that does not reflect the rise of a professionalism within the field of corrections.



            A security threat group (STG) is any group of three (3) or more persons with recurring threatening or disruptive behavior (i.e., violations of the disciplinary rules where said violations were openly known or conferred benefit upon the group would suffice for a prison environment), including but not limited to gang crime or gang violence (i.e., crime of any sort would automatically make the group a gang, and as a gang in custody it would logically be an STG). In some jurisdictions the Security Threat Group is also called a “Disruptive Group”. STG’s or disruptive groups would include any group of three or more inmates who were members of the same street gang, or prison gang, or the same extremist political or ideological group where such extremist ideology is potentially a security problem in the correctional setting (i.e., could inflame attitudes, exacerbate racial tensions, spread hatred, etc).

            Definitions of STG’s do exist which are more liberal and allow for any group of “two or more persons” to define an STG and this apparently became the ACA (American Correctional Association) definition over a decade ago (“two or more inmates, acting together, who pose a threat to the security or safety of staff/inmates, and/or are disruptive to programs and/or to the orderly management of the facility/system”, see ACA quote in Allen, Simonsen, Latessa, 2004: p. 196). The problem with two is that this is only a social dyad at best. The social dyad is not capable of the primordial act of any organization: delegation, as can occur in a true social group (which must have 3 or more persons in it). The definition advanced here is more consistent with the larger literature, and American law, on the definition of “gang”.

            The definition of an STG in the Arizona Department of Corrections is typical of those definitions which emphasize certain issues and ignore others, let us examine it here:

            “What is a Security Threat Group? Any organization, club, association or group of individuals, formal or informal (including traditional prison gangs), that may have a common name, identifying sign or symbol, and whose members engage in activities that would include, but are not limited to planning, organizing, threatening, financing, soliciting, committing, or attempting to commit unlawful acts or an act that would violate the departments written instructions, which would detract from the safe orderly operations of prisons” (Arizona Dept. Of Corrections, 2004).

            Note that size of the group is not important, but that the STG “may have” a common name or symbol; the list of “may have’s” could be very extensive. Just as the list of behavior’s could be prohibitively long: it may be sufficient to say “any crime, deviance, or rule breaking”.

            A prison gang, correctly defined, is any gang (where a gang is a group of three or more persons who recurrently commit crime, and where the crime is openly known to the group) that operates in prison. However, a tradition has developed “in practice” within the context of applied ideas about prison gangs, where the correctional practitioner defines a prison gang exclusively as “a gang that originated in the prison”. Thus, gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Black Guerilla Family and the Melanics would be “pure prison gangs” in this respect, because these were not street gangs imported into the prison system, these are gangs that originated within the prison system itself. The Lyman (1989) definition of prison gang centers around the commission of crime, without the crime a prison group could violate rules and regulations and still be a security threat group.

            Can there be a disruptive group that is not necessarily a gang? Yes, of course, if the collective identity of the group is such that it seeks to challenge the legitimacy of the correctional system itself. In Texas, for example, the pre-service and in-service “gang/STG training” includes information about a group called the “Self Defense Family (SDF)”. The SDF is mostly Black with one white inmate, but objectively it is a group that just likes to file law suits against the prison system, the members of the SDF are “prison lawyers”: not real lawyers, self-taught inmates who have become very adept at frivolous law suits. The SDF may not qualify as a “gang”, because after all what they are doing is “lawful”, but they are a “threat” to the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

            “Stigged” to “STG’d” means to the process by which any group of inmates is determined to be and becomes officially labeled as a Security Threat Group. This often goes according to official policy and procedure for declaring an inmate group a STG, there are written guidelines and there usually exists a burden of proof requirement — such a the need to show a pattern of abuses or documenting offenses (disciplinary rules, assaults, violence, etc) over time in a time series approach. Typically this process begins at the institutional level where the group is a problem, and the central administration reviews the recommendation, and then if the evidence is sufficient, the inmate group becomes classified as a Security Threat Group statewide, i.e., throughout the entire prison system.

            “Validated” refers to the “validation process”, a process by which an inmate is determined, usually after continuing to be a gang banger in prison, to be a “security threat group member” by the prison officials. In California, most gang members behind bars are not “validated”, the stigma of “validated” means the inmate would have had a continued career of conspicuous gang banging violence behind bars. Thus, officially for decades, California’s prison system has reported to researchers that it has a “low gang density”, because these estimates of gang density (the percentage of inmates who are gang/STG members) are based upon “validated gang/STG members”. So the way “validated” has worked in some jurisdictions like California is that it refers to a process where after posting many warnings and cautioning inmates against engaging in crime or violence on behalf of their gang, after of course being put in prison for the same thing, the inmate continues to be caught for gang violence behind bars, and the correctional system has no other recourse than to say “we’ve had enough, now you are a validated gang member”. Validated gang members can be given special security levels and more restricted housing environments.

            Gang denial is a social policy whereby the entity involved — the city, the facility, the company, the school, or the entire state corrections agency — denies there is a gang problem or reports a significantly lower gang problem than actually exists. Sometimes called the “Ostrich phenomenon”, it means ignoring the problem, hoping it will go away on its own. In some jurisdictions, it is politically imposed because awareness could have implications for the local tourism trade. Or more typically, there is an assumption that if the entity reports a gang problem, it attracts further “bad news”. It is hard to attract new employees to low paying high turnover jobs in corrections when the newspapers are reporting gang fights behind bars. It usually takes a serious crisis or a local news media investigation to reverse a “gang denial policy”.

            The term “validation process” as used in California was their innovative way of dealing with a high gang density rate: it is reasonable to believe that California’s prison system, as a producer of gangs, that is as a major national epicenter of gangs, is probably comparable to Illinois with regard to gang density. In Illinois, approximately 80 to 90 percent of the inmates coming into the prison system were gang members on the streets. Gang inmates are told to behave, and if they do not, they face the risk of being a “validated gang member”.

            Thus, when California reports to a prison researcher that “six percent of our inmates are STG/prison gang members” they are couching this unbelievably low statistic in the magical language of “validated gang members”: those who within the inmate population continued to be gang bangers and we caught them doing it in very serious offenses after being incarcerated. One might ask, of course, is this policy of obscuring the gang problem the way it is reported to the public — a variation on the “gang denial” theme ---a policy that could also encourage a greater personal safety threat to the correctional officers who work there?

            Gang density means the percentage of inmates who are now or who have ever been members of a street or prison gang. Gang members rarely give up their gang upon being incarcerated, they continue their gang involvement in most cases. Gangs are the dominant subculture in the entire American correctional system today (jails, juvenile and adult correctional facilities, public and private).

            Some practitioners in their writing like to make a distinction between traditional prison gangs and untraditional prison gangs, where what they really mean is that the traditional prison gangs were those first on the scene (Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerilla Family, etc) and that untraditional or non-traditional would therefore be “anything else”. This is not a particularly useful distinction when it is known that some gangs considered “traditional prison gangs” have long ago made the transition to the street. A better, more analytically sound, distinction would be to classify these prison gangs in terms of the level of their organizational threat: are they in a national gang alliance system, do they have a national impact, and a large number of empirical measurements that can be taken on gang groups and gang organizations in terms of the features of their social organization (Knox, 2000).


            The time frame for data collection represented the first six months of the year 2004. Several questions on the survey refer to a time context and ask the respondent to provide information about their prison during the most recent year. It is necessary to clarify here that when these questions are referring to data from the most recent “one year period”, that the questions are actually referring to the one year time frame of 2003.



            The survey research methodology was straight forward, it attempted to saturate each of the 50 states by contacting any and all adult correctional facilities known to exist. The first point of contact would be with the warden or superintendent. If no response came back from the warden or superintendent, then an effort would be made to locate a person such as an STG coordinator or STG investigator perhaps someone previously known to the NGCRC in the same facility. The goal was to get as broad of a national sample as possible. In as much as the sample did finally end up with 49 states represented, it is apparent that the methodology was an effective one. The survey did allow participants to be anonymous respondents. So allowing respondents to be anonymous may have helped overcome some resistance.

            It is easy to understand why some states are hostile to surveys such as this one, they do not want their state to be compared unfairly with other states. For example, in a state-by-state comparison of certain issues surrounding the gang problem, it could be very embarrassing for some states to have their actual gang/STG density factors published. The reason for this embarrassment goes back to previous surveys where the same states may have supplied such low estimates of the gang member density statistic that it would look like the state has rapidly deteriorated if the true or current statistic was reported. Knowing this feature of the geo-politics of corrections research, the methodology used in this study gave the respondents another option: the option to not have any of their data analyzed with reference to their zip code (which provides state and jurisdictional location). The NGCRC will respect such preferences, and providing this option did help gain the useful sample size developed from the research.


            The vast majority of the survey items used in this research are questions previously used in NGCRC correctional surveys of jails, juvenile correctional institutions, and adult correctional institutions. However, this year there are some new survey items that have been added to the item pool. It is important here to gratefully recognize the work and contributions from a number of different researchers who designed or helped design some of the new questions, particularly dealing with white racist extremists and their “religious practices” behind bars.


            A total of N = 193 validated survey respondents are included in the analysis reported here. Several additional survey respondents did participate by sending in their information, but these were not used in the analysis because they were non-responsive in some basic or elementary way to the requirement of completing the survey instrument (excessive missing data, etc). One case was also eliminated because it represented the entire state, when the unit of analysis sought was the institution level unit of analysis.


            A total of 49 states are represented in the survey data. The only state that did not cooperate with the survey was the State of Rhode Island. This is considered a very effective national sample when 49 out of 50 states are represented in the N = 193 survey respondents.



            The order of presentation will be that the basic and descriptive statistical findings from the survey are presented first. This order, in terms of topical areas, will follow the same order as the items had inside the survey instrument itself. This is the fairest method in an order of presentation because it does not assign any special significance to the placement of results within this order. The presentation order basically lets the chips fall where they may in the same order as the question appears in the survey instrument.

            After examining the basic and descriptive statistical findings from the research, this report will then present the findings from a content analysis of the open-ended items in the survey. The open-ended items in the survey sought to collect narrative information that could be codified and analyzed in terms of a content analysis and this content analysis provides findings on general trends. After presenting the findings from an analysis of the narrative items in the survey, and again this will follow the same sequence as the items had in the survey instrument, some more detailed analysis will be reported on special problem areas that have emerged in the findings of this research.



            The survey asked the question “Do you know what R.L.U.I.P.A. is?”, and this of course referred to a federal law impacting on how prison inmates practice their religious beliefs behind bars. The results suggest that about half of the respondents knew what it was. Some 46.8% indicated “Yes” that they knew what this was, while some 53.2% indicated “No” that they did not know what this was.

            RLUIPA stands for “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act”. Persons wanting to know more about how this impacts on corrections can go to the website sponsored by the Becket Fund — www . RLUIPA . Com — and see that many correctional agencies have been sued over this federal law that went into effect in the year 2000. What this new law did was extend certain new statutory rights to prison inmates, said inmates quickly learned they had a new weapon to use against correctional administrators, and a massive onslaught of frivolous lawsuits were soon unleashed against correctional agencies nationwide. Additionally, gangs got into the “prisoner religious rights” business and began to operate as a religious front, using RLUIPA as the basis for holding their meetings.

            It is helpful to summarize the recent case from Ohio regarding this statute (Trout, 2004). Basically, what RLUIPA did for adult correctional institutions was to increase the review requirements for placing any restrictions on inmates that might pertain to religion. Prior to the passage of RLUIPA the rational review doctrine applied: this meant that disciplinary measures and restrictions could be placed on inmates regarding religion simply if the prison administration rationally decides it is in the best interests of safety and security to do so. After 2000, though, RLUIPA established the strict scrutiny doctrine under which the burden of proof shifts from the inmate needing to prove his rights were violated to the prison needing to prove it is not violating the rights of inmates. In otherwords, under the strict scrutiny doctrine American prisons are under strict scrutiny and assumed to want to systematically violate the rights of inmates, such that any restriction on an inmate’s religious practices is assumed to required extra special scrutiny.

            In establishing the strict scrutiny doctrine, RLUIPA also created two classes of inmates: those whose rights are protected when they operate under the cloak of a religion, and those whose rights are not protected when they do not. Thus, those inmates who might want to advance a hatred of anything but Caucasian people could easily do so by organizing their religious service under a wide variety of banners (Christian Identity, WCOTC, etc), and when they possess inflammatory materials along these lines, they are a religion and the inmates can claim it is constitutionally protected. At the same time, an ordinary neo-nazi who does the same thing, but who does not claim it is a religious practice, will face summary disciplinary procedures under the rational review doctrine. Over the years it appears that inmates have learned that it “pays off” to take on the special status of a religion.

            In the last year, though, the Ohio adult prison system won a major victory against RLUIPA: the portion of the law applying to prisoners was found to be unconstitutional in the Sixth Circuit.


            The survey asked “Has your facility experienced any abuses of religious freedoms as a result of the RLUIPA?”, and only 17.3 percent indicated yes. Thus, overall this basic descriptive finding indicates only a modest level of abuse of the RLUIPA legislation that went into effect in 2000. Recall, however, that only half of the respondents actually knew what this legislative acronym meant. So, it may very well be that a significant percentage of those reporting abuses were also those who knew what it really was. If this is true, then it may be a situation of limited understanding of the overall importance of the legislation, and this would suggest that additional research would be necessary to establish a more realistic estimate of the true level of abuse.


            When inmates worship, the issue is: should they be allowed to congregate together in a large mass? Or can they achieve the same substantive quality experience by other means such as videotaped transmission or televised services or some other mechanism of the delivery of religious services behind bars?

            The survey asked “Do you believe prisoners can meet their religious needs individually without group worship?”, and 72.5 percent indicate “yes”. This may be the issue of the actual size of the group. If they are able to control or take over a prison facility, then obviously it would be a security issue to allow everyone to show up for worship all together all at once in one place: that could not be done in any prison or correctional facility. What happens is some gangs and security threat groups use religious meetings as the basis for their gang meetings. When this happens the inmates abuse the right of religious worship, which does obviously occur in American corrections. Later in this report, an additional follow-up question about group vs. individual worship asks the respondent additional — but different — information along these lines (e.g., could they do this in their cell by means of televised broadcast, etc).



            The survey asked “Do you feel we need tougher laws to control the gang problem in prison?”, and the results indicate that 84.9 percent responded “yes” to this question. Thus, a vast majority of those in adult corrections are expressing some level of frustration in dealing with the gang problem behind bars. Another way of looking at this is that perhaps the gang problem inside correctional facilities is escalating at a faster rate than society’s ability to respond to it through effective legislative initiatives.


            The survey asked the respondents “Please estimate what percentage of inmates were gang members before they came to your institution?”, and separate estimates were elicited for both males and females. The results indicate that a mean or arithmetic average of 25.9 percent for males, and 6.28 percent for females, were the respective gang density estimates for newly arriving inmates in American prisons today.

            This is the first variable about “gang math” that is presented, and several others will also be used, the issue of larger concern is perhaps how these gang math variable interact with each other. These two variables are the most important parameters for a correctional institution: what percentage of the incoming inmates are gang members, the incoming gang member density rate. Which means, basically, that slightly over a fourth of the males headed into the prison system today are gang members.


            The survey asked “Please estimate what percentage of inmates who came into your facility as gang members have permanent “gang tattoos”, and separate estimates were elicited for both the male and female inmates. The results indicated that only 38.2 percent of the males who came in as gang members had permanent gang tattoos, and only 7.4 percent of the females who came in as gang members had permanent gang tattoos. This would seem to signal somewhat low levels of commitment to gang life for persons recently convicted of felonies and headed to long term custody. This is a somewhat curious statistical finding, as it would have been expected to be somewhat higher. Perhaps we are just now discovering that for these gang members they get their biggest and best gang tattoos later while serving the duration of their prison sentences. 


            The survey explicitly asked “Does your facility have specific disciplinary rules that prohibit gang recruitment?”. The results indicate that 74.9 percent reported such rules already in place which would prohibit gang recruitment behind bars. Still, about a fourth of the respondents in this survey indicated that no such rules were in place that would prohibit gang recruitment in American prisons — and this is something that needs to change immediately.


            The survey asked “Do you believe that some inmates may have voluntarily joined (sought out) or may have been recruited into a gang while incarcerated?”. The results show that an over-whelming majority (94.2 percent) indicated “yes”, that they are aware of inmates joining or being recruited into a gang while incarcerated. This is a major breakthrough in terms of having full and open disclosure about a major gang problem such as this. If there was previously any doubt about whether the “contamination effect” takes place, then this data should basically set the record straight in that regard. Yes, gang members do contaminate other inmates and thus, sending a gang leader to prison just means the gang leader has a new arena in which to undertake recruiting efforts, and from what nearly 95 percent of the prisons are reporting — it pays off for the gang to be able to recruit or groom new members from inside correctional facilities.


            The survey asked “Please estimate what percentage of inmates were not gang members on the streets, but who did in fact join a gang or an STG after entering your institution,” and separate estimates were solicited for males and females. The results indicate that 11.6 percent of the males first joined a gang or STG while incarcerated, compared to 3.7 percent for the female inmates. This is, after all, quite a remarkable finding in one regard: it means one out of ten male prison inmates in America first joined a gang while they were in prison. And, therefore, the rate of new intake into gang life within correctional facilities is a major problem today. This also gives a major new safety goal: to reduce or eliminate such high levels of gang recruitment behind bars might do much if there was ever going to be, for the first time ever, an organized war against criminal gangs in America. It also shows that far from becoming rehabilitated, many inmates become more hardened in the current system.


            One of the most effective “anti-gang” program services ever conceived of is known as the gang tattoo removal service. When a gang member is disaffected with gang life and wants to leave the gang, perhaps testify against the gang, or just wants to “go straight”, he or she often seeks to remove gang tattoos (see Thompson, 2004b). A large number of communities in America today provide such tattoo removal services. The gang members are screened and an assessment is made as to the sincerity of their claim to want to leave gang life, and upon a determination of their commitment to wanting to leave gang life alone, the program provides free or inexpensive tattoo removal services. Physicians often volunteer for this kind of work, pro bono.

            The survey asked “Does your facility have a “gang tattoo removal program” for inmates who want to quit gang life?”. Sadly 99.5 percent indicated “no”, and only one half of one percent indicated “yes”. Therefore, gang tattoo removal services are basically non-existent in American adult corrections today is the finding of this research. And correctional officials are missing an important opportunity to dissuade some inmates from the negative influences of gang life by not seeking to take advantage of basically free services.


            The survey asked “Does your facility have a special program that is able to get gang inmates to quit their gang?”. The results indicated that only 15.7 percent indicated “yes”, thus the vast majority did not have any special program to help their inmates quit gang life. The basic message here is that some of these programs could easily be replicated in other jurisdictions at little or no cost, and it would pay off for American society in a large way would be the prediction here.

            One example of a special program that is aimed at encouraging inmates to quit their gang is the GRAD program in the Texas state prison system. GRAD is the acronym for the federally funded “Gang Renouncement and Disassociation Process” (Riggs, 2004). To get into this program gang members in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Institution Division must first go into “protective custody” in the Ramsey One prison unit located near Houston, Texas, then in three stages during nine months of program services they are taught “how to start new lives outside the gangs” (Riggs, 2004). Apparently, more than 600 inmates are on the waiting list for the program, which is very consistent with much earlier national research by the NGCRC that many gang members would quit gang life if given the chance.


            As a follow-up on whether any special program existed to help inmates quit gang life, the survey asked “what percentage of the inmates who come in as gang members actually quit their gang?”. The results indicate that a mean of 9.46 percent of the inmates who come in as gang members quit their gang inside correctional institutions. That, too, is quite remarkable when one out of ten gang members coming into the facility quits their gang after they enter the correctional facility. Another way of looking at this might be that they quit one gang to join another, which unfortunately is a likely possibility. It would be useful, in future research along these lines, to investigate the extent to which inmates switch gangs. It is interesting to note that this group of inmates is roughly equal in size to the proportion of inmates who join a gang for the first time during prison. These two factors tend to cancel each other out is what is demonstrated here for the first time.


            The survey asked “overall, considering the percentage who were gang members before they came to your institution and considering the percentage who joined after they came to your institution, what percentage of the inmates in your facility are gang members?”. Again the survey sought separate estimates for both males and females. The adjusted gang density rate for male inmates was shown to be 24.8 percent, still rather high; and 4.09 percent for female inmates.



            The survey asked “Do white inmates have a separate gang?”. The results showed that 72.3 percent of the facilities responding to the survey reported that white inmates have a separate gang. Actually, as will be further described later in this report, a typical facility may have several white gangs. A follow-up question to this survey item asked for the actual name, as narrative data, of the white gang. This narrative information is subjected to content analysis and the results of the content analyses are reported after the descriptive statistical findings.

            Since 1991 this problem has steadily increased in a significant way. In 1991 about a fourth of the institutions were reporting white gangs, as can be seen below, in continuous NGCRC monitoring of this factor over the years, now only about a fourth of the institutions do not have a separate white gang..

            1991    1992    1993    1995    1999    2004

YES    27.3% 41.1% 56.7% 57.9% 70.3% 72.3%

NO      72.7% 59.6% 43.3% 42.1% 29.7% 27.7%


            The survey asked a series of questions about whether any of the inmates in their facility requested or have actually ordered and possessed as their property three different types of books that would give us more than some clue as to the kind of ideological influences available to inmates. Some 31.5 percent of the prisons reported that inmates had the book known as The White Man’s Bible by Ben Klassen. Some 47.3 percent reported that inmates had the book known as The Satanic Bible by Anton Le Vey. And 36 percent reported that inmates had the book entitled Temple of Woton: The Holy Book of the Aryan Tribes by the 14 Word Press.

            Unfortunately, this report lacks comparison information for what percentage of inmates generally have possession of these kinds of materials as compared with more mainstream publications such as the Bible or the Koran. It obviously would be a valuable future contribution to our knowledge base to examine this issue.



            The survey asked “Have any of the inmates in your facility, past or present, ever possessed or manufactured a Book of Shadows?”. Some 37.5 percent responded “yes”. Thus, over a third of the responding correctional facilities were familiar with this aspect of occult practices behind bars. The Book of Shadows is an occult practice found in the Wiccan groups. Wiccan witchcraft is considered a legitimate religion in the U.S. Military, and cannot be suppressed or investigated.


            The survey asked “Have any inmates in your facility requested to conduct the Blod Rite in your facility?”, and the results indicated that 12.2 percent of the facilities responding to the survey answered “yes”. The Blod Rite is an Odinist ritual, where the priest and priestess gather others who worship the white god of Valhalla (Odin). Odinism could obviously be a front for white racist extremist gangs behind bars, this would be consistent with the analysis by Blazak (2002).


            To our knowledge this is the first time any systematic effort has been undertaken to measure the scope and extent of white racist extremist ministry outreach to American inmates. The survey asked “Has your facility received any “prison ministry literature” from any of the following groups” and listed were the top three operating in America.

            The results indicated that 29 percent of the prisons report inmate outreach from the Kingdom Identity Ministries (Christian Identity). Further, that 36.6 percent report outreach from the Church of Jesus Christ Christian (Christian Identity). And finally, that 45.9 percent report outreach from the World Church of the Creator or Creativity (WCOTC).

            A separate question asked the respondents “What are the top three largest white racist extremist “religious” front groups that are proselytizing to the inmates in your facility?”, but this this narrative is subjected to content analysis and reported later in this report.


            The survey asked “In your opinion, would an official who tries to bargain with an inmate gang leader be similar to negotiating with terrorists?”. The results indicate that 70.6 percent agree with this assumption, that is, that yes, bargaining with an inmate gang leader is exactly like trying to negotiate with a terrorist: you should not do it. Years ago, it was not uncommon at all, in some correctional agencies to find administrators bargaining with inmate gang leaders.


            The survey asked “Do you feel that gangs or gang leaders are able to influence politicians in your state?”, and unusually some 29.3 percent, over a fourth of those responding to the survey, indicated “yes” that they believed this to be true. The idea that gangs or gang leaders are able to influence politicians is an issue of political corruption. Gangs and organized crime flourish where political corruption exists. So, when this many correctional agencies are reporting this kind of problem, a major potential problem exists nationwide. For the record, NGCRC surveys of local law enforcement agencies have in the past reported the very same phenomenon.

            In 1994 it was at 20.3 percent, rising in 1995, the results showed that 23.6 percent of the respondents felt that gangs or gang leaders are able to influence the politicians in their state; in 1999, this rose slightly to 25.4 percent.

             1994    1995    1999    2004

YES    20.3% 23.6% 25.4% 29.3%

NO      79.7% 76.4% 74.6% 70.7%

            The survey also asked the respondents “What are the names of the top three largest gangs that are represented among inmates in your facility?”, but this narrative information is examined by content analysis and is summarized later in this report.


            The survey asked “Do you believe federal agencies should play a greater role in the investigation and prosecution of gang crimes?”. Some 84.8 percent of the respondents indicated “yes”, that they do believe this. Thus, there would appear to be overwhelming (over 4 out of 5) support the idea that federal agencies are needed in the fight against gangs.


            The survey asked “What kind of economic "rackets" do gangs try to operate or control in your facility? (check ALL that apply)” and listed were the options of drugs, sex, food, clothing, loan sharking, gambling, extortion, and protection. All of these are well known income-producing “rackets” or illegal enterprises for prison inmates: they make their money from other inmates. Inmates have invented some remarkably clever ways to “wash” or “launder” the money. Often the money is never actually sent to the prison, the “customer” instructs his family to mail the money to a “third party” who often is related to the incarcerated racket operator.

            So among the major types of inmate rackets, our findings indicate that gangs try to dominate most of these rackets. For example, gangs try to dominate the drug rackets in 87.8 percent of the facilities surveyed; drugs are the most lucrative market.

            These illegal drugs are also a source of riots and killings behind bars. For example, in March of 2004, a prison riot in Puerto Rico resulted in two inmates killed and five wounded, which was started by gang members fighting over who would control the a shipment of illegal drugs; Neta, Los 25, and Los 27 are the main prison gangs in Puerto Rico (“Pereira Firm on Not Allowing Prison Gangs”, March 17, 2004, San Juan, Associated Press).

            Some 45.1 percent of the facilities responding indicated that gangs tried to dominate the illegal sex trade behind bars; while usually involving homosexual inmates working for the gang, it also sometimes involves the special cooperation from correctional staff who may, for a price, be willing to provide sexual favors to inmates or to look the other way; as well as special “arrangements” where a visit or a cultural event becomes the context for being able to offer a prostitute or its equivalent from outside.

            Some 56.7 percent indicated that gangs tried to dominate the illicit food business behind bars, this entails specially cooked items or meals specially prepared, special food items, often stolen or smuggled into the facility.

            Some 40.2 percent indicated that gangs tried to dominate the clothing business; this often means “special” treatment, pressed pants, perhaps scented or “dry cleaning” as opposed to regular clothes washing.

            Some 60.4 percent indicated that gangs tried to dominate the loan sharking scams in their facilities; this is where a gang operates an illegal “store”, and other inmates can make purchases from it at any time day or night, on credit. They pay two for one, and are expected to repay in one week; or the “juice” goes up. It is a very lucrative scam. Or the inmate may want to loan “stamps”, or “cigarettes”, similarly, they pay three digit interest rates.

            Some 73.2 percent of the facilities indicated that gangs try to dominate the gambling scams in their prisons; these involve everything from “betting pools”, to dice or craps games, to card games, and a wide variety of “lottery” types of games. All operated by the inmates, of course, and you have to ask yourself: why would they play against other convicted criminals, how can they be trusted to operate an honest betting operation?

            Some 70.1 percent of the facilities indicated that gangs tend to dominate the “extortion” rackets; and that gangs dominate in 76.2 percent of the cases in “protection” rackets. These go hand in hand. Basically, weaker inmates become the target of organized gang groups, and the weaker inmates are forced to pay the stronger inmates.

            A new type of inmate racket is the “cellular phone call”. In this type of special service, an inmate for a fee is allowed to make a call on a contraband cell phone. By using a cell phone that was illegally smuggled into the correctional facility, it is not monitored, and the inmate using the cell phone can have a “clean call” to conduct business with someone in the outside world, perhaps just call and harass a witness. Smuggling in cell phones is itself a racket. For example one report on the prison system in Puerto Rico indicated that 548 mobile phones or cell phones were seized from inmates. Miguel Pereira — the Secretary of Puerto Rico’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Department — reported those 548 phones were seized just during the first three months of 2004 (Associated Press, “Pereira Firm on Not Allowing Prison Gangs”, San Juan, March 17, 2004). In 2002, 61 cell phones were seized as contraband in 3 Philadelphia jails, and with a new law making it a 10 year prison sentence for an inmate to possess a cell phone or for anyone to give it to an inmate, there are 50 cases being prosecuted now in Texas (Butterfield, 2004).

            What is another potential danger of cellular phones smuggled into prison inmates? In February, of 2001, one very powerful prison gang called the First Command of the Capital (PCC), used cell phones to create riots in 29 different prisons throughout Brazil. The prison gang used the cell phones to synchronize the rioting in different jurisdictions of Brazil, resulting in the deaths of 19 inmates. And, obviously, just as easily were able to call off the riot with the same communications system. Inmates with cell phones is bad news anywhere in the world. In the 2001 Brazilian riots, the gang leader met with an important judge and had the audacity to threaten the Brazilian government to the effect “if we get what we want, we will stop rioting for 90 days”. In 2002, 27 inmates were killed in a gang riot at the Urso Branco (White Bear) prison in Brazil. In April of 2004 the same prison would be the scene of another gang riot resulting in 14 inmates killed (tortured or mutilated by the gang, often decapitated). After these riots, many concessions were made to the gang (additional visits, replacing wardens, transfers, more recreation space, better dental program, etc) , so a lot more rioting in Brazil can be expected in the years ahead, when the inmates start working on the potentially endless list of “demands” they are capable of making.

            The May 2004 gang riot in the Benfica detention center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil left 30 inmates dead. But it could have been a lot worse, as a similar riot in 1992 at Sao Paulo’s Carandiru prison resulted in over100 inmates killed. The Benfica riot ended June 1, 2004 when a gangwise negotiator, pastor Marcos Pereira da Silva came to the jail, met with the gang members, prayed with them and accepted their weapons, the inmates sang praise worship songs and then returned to their cells. Pastor Da Silva has a unique type of church: Assembly of God of the Last Days, situated in Sao Joao de Meriti, the women in his church wear and worship separately from the men. He has definitely gained the reputation among Brazilian gangs as a mediator.

            Today, Brazil is doing what some American prisons did with prison gang leaders years ago, perhaps two decades or more, circa 1980: negotiating with gang leaders, making concessions to them, trying to “bargain” with the gang leaders. This is a major mistake and is destined to backfire in different ways over time. First, it emboldens the gang in the same way that negotiating with a terrorist group gives it undeserved recognition as an entity that has any legitimate right to demand anything. Secondly, it sets a terrible precedent by giving the inmates an incentive to riot again and again, knowing that they were rewarded for misbehaving in the past they might be rewarded again. And thirdly, it legitimizes the prison gang as the semi-official inmate “union” organization and makes the gang leader the power broker or the “inmate union leader”. It is easy to make the prediction, without use of a crystal ball, that much additional prison gang violence will occur in Brazil. What is being done in Brazil’s prison system is a massive management mistake.



            The survey asked “What was the largest amount of cash seized from gang member inmates during the last one year period? $__________dollars”. While many reported no such seizures, among the cases where USC was seized, the amounts ranged from a low of $20 to a high of $7,500 in cash or United States Currency. The mean amount seized during the last year was $280.24 in the incidents reported in this survey. So, obviously, money is being found and taken away from gang member inmates. And the only logical explanation is that they got it from one or more of the rackets that gangs operate behind bars.


            The survey asked “Do you believe that gang members generally have a stronger affiliation with their gang after serving time?”, Some 73.6 percent responded “yes”, that they believed that the prison experience did in fact increase the strength of the affiliation or tie to the gang. Some have called this the “hardening effect”: where the prison experience increases rather than decreases their commitment to gang life. What is often at work in this “hardening effect” is that inside prison, the gang member may have made some rank. That is, it is often easier for a gang member to achieve a position of leadership or rank while in prison, as they often meet the real gang leaders there as well.


            This survey uses the best type of data, because it measures not what someone claims on paper (i.e., an admission form), but rather measures how religion is practiced in prison. The survey asked the respondents to “Estimate the breakdown of percentage of inmates attending religious services in your facility” and separate estimates were obtained for all of the major religious types. Here are the results, rank ordered by their popularity among American inmates: Protestant services was the largest single category of inmates, accounting for 29.1 percent of inmates; Muslim services were next with 10.5 percent of the inmates; followed by Catholic services (9.9) and Judaic services (1.1%); a small number of “other” services are offered nationwide as well accounting for 8.2 percent of inmate attendance.  

            The survey did ask the names of the three largest “other” services attracting inmates, under the hypothesis that this exploratory research might discover some interesting trends. This narrative information will be detailed later in this report.


            The survey asked “Does your facility have any programs for inmates which seek to improve race relations among inmates?”. The results indicate that about a fourth of the institutions, nationwide, are reporting that they have such a program. Some 24.2 percent of the respondents indicated that they had some program for inmates which seeks to improve race relations among inmates. In our opinion, the quarter of the respondents who report this type of programming option have an advantage in dealing with gang problems and in preventing disturbances. Anything that can be done to improve race relations takes away a lot of the fuel from the hatemongers and gangs, who are often the cause of such disturbances and riots behind bars.

            This report includes additional information, presented later, indicating about half of the correctional respondents believe in the theory that anything done to reduce racial tension might also reduce gang violence.


            A trend in recent years has been to create separate facilities for informants, sometimes called “snitch farms”. A number of states have these, and these are very unique environments, not necessarily any safer, just very unique: in these facilities the social pecking order is upside down. In a regular prison the “snitch” is at the very bottom of the pecking order, but in a snitch farm the bigger the snitch the more “status” they have.

            The survey asked “Does your state have a separate correctional facility for confidential informants?”. The survey results indicated that only 14.5 percent of the respondents indicated that their state has this kind of facility.


            The survey asked “Have inmates attempted to use religious services as a front for a Security Threat Group or gang?”. The results indicate that 68.8 percent responded “yes” to this question. With over two-thirds of the prisons reporting that gangs and STG’s attempt to use religious services as a “cover” or “front” for their gang/STG operations, the information on the types of these gangs will be presented later in the report. For example, after finishing the descriptive statistics this report presents findings on white racist extremist gangs, and identifies the top ten white racist “religious” front groups spreading their brand of hate to American inmates today nationwide.



            The survey asked “Do you have a staff person physically in the room during all religious services?”. The results indicated that only 49.7 percent reported that they did in fact have a staff person physically in the room during all religious services in their prison. Which means, of course, that in the other half of the cases that there is in fact no staff person physically present during all religious services. It is likely a staffing problem: too many needs and not enough staff to meet the needs. It would be valuable to follow-up regarding this issue in the future, to evaluate the perceived needs in this area.


            The survey asked “Do you have auditory/visual supervision of all religious services?”, and the results indicated that 55 percent indicated “yes”. Thus, just over half of the correctional facilities participating in the survey indicated that yes they do use audio/visual supervision of all religious services. This is typically accomplished with regular security cameras.


            The survey asked “is militaristic behavior allowed by “religious groups” in your facility (e.g., saluting, marching, cadence, etc)?”. The results showed that only 4.2 percent indicated “yes”, that this kind of bizarre behavior would be tolerated in their correctional facilities, making it very rare. The overwhelming vast majority (95.8%) indicated this kind of militaristic behavior would not be tolerated.


            The survey asked “Do you allow prisoners to lead services when volunteers/chaplains are not qualified/available for services?”. Surprisingly, some 51.4 percent indicated “yes”, that it would be allowable for inmates to technically be the spiritual leader of other inmates. This is, after all, potentially what could be expected if prisoners are allowed to lead the services for other inmates. If leading the religious service is a position of power, then it runs against most modern ideas in penology to allow any prisoner to have any kind or type of authority over other prisoners. The reason this is true is that there is simply way too much room for the abuse of that power in an environment dominated by deadly criminal gangs.

            Still, what this may also measure is a severe lack of religious volunteers from the outside community; thus, there is a need to catalog or inventory the existence of such programs nationwide that might be able to offer aid, assistance or training in this regard.


            The survey asked “Do you allow prisoners to refer to themselves with religious titles of power or authority (Reverend, Imam, Supreme Pontificate, etc)?”. Here the research found that only 19.7 percent of the correctional facilities actually allow inmates to adopt such religious titles, possibly titles of power and authority. Most prisons do not tolerate this behavior from prisoners. It is rather astonishing that so many facilities do allow this behavior, that is, in light of the potential for abuse that it might represent: particularly if used by a gang leader.


            The survey asked “Do you allow prisoners to exchange funds with each other?”. The results showed that only 2.6 percent of the responding facilities allowed inmates to exchange funds with each other. Thus, it is very rare to allow this kind of economic freedom behind bars.

In most prisons, inmates would never be allowed to exchange money or funds with each other, it would be prohibited and a violation of the rules is the finding here.


            The survey asked “How many different religious groups are being provided time and space for group worship meetings in your facility?”. The results indicated a mean score of 6.3 such religious groups being provided time and space for group worship meetings nationwide. Obviously, this could go higher or lower, with a high of 22 different religious groups meeting in one facility in the sample. The 6.3 would be the average, nationwide, for this variable.


            If you wanted to allow prisoners to write to each other and send the message “everyone riot on January 1st at breakfast, mass escape, mayhem, day of reckoning”, then this would be the way it would happen: you would allow prisoners to write to each other through the United States Postal Service. Wanting to know what, exactly, the national statistical tendency was here, the survey asked the question “Is prisoner to prisoner mail allowed in your facility?”. What the research found was that 47.1 percent of the facilities said “yes”, that it is allowed (i.e., that inmates can write to other inmates).

              In Pelican Bay, gang members are not allowed to write to other inmates. In spite of this, gang members developed their own technique for evading this rule or regulation. They used a bounce-back technique: A. They write the letter that is designed to be a message intended for another inmate, B. They mail this letter to a cooperative third party who knows both persons, typically a female friend of the gang who gives the letter the “bounce”, and C. It is then just sent to the inmate it was intended for. This is a technique gang leaders have perfected at Pelican Bay (Geniella, 2001).

            Inmates have a lot of time to develop special codes and ciphers to encode important “gang business” messages. Cryptanalysts are able to make a forensic examination of these written communications, and in the gang world often find hidden messages: beneath the overt message of “AHG to Sammy” or “All Honorable Greetings to Sammy”, might contain the alphanumeric childhood code of A = 1, G = 7, H = 8, thus what it really says in California illiterate-level gang cryptology is “187 to Sammy” or “kill Sammy”. Staff who work in the mail room and who monitor phones and visitation rooms need to know a lot more about the hidden codes and many words and phrases that have “double meanings” to most gangs. This includes special words for drugs and money and payment procedures, as well as coded identifiers for the names of important figures in the gang business. It is fair to characterize this area as a “growing field of study” that promises to provide a wealth of useful training material for correctional personnel in the future.


            The survey asked “In your opinion is prisoner to prisoner mail a major potential security problem in the field of corrections?”. The results show that 79.4 percent responded “yes”, that prisoner to prisoner mail could be a security problem. It is interesting, though, that one out of five felt otherwise.

            There are probably a lot of security threats in the mail system used by American inmates that have yet to be properly addressed. One issue comes to mind in the post-911 environment: should prison inmates be able, for example, to write letters to foreign embassies? It is a well known fact that the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, among others, routinely sends free copies of the Koran to prisons (Miller, 1999).


            The survey asked “How many religious services are run by prisoners or inmates at your facility?” The results showed a mean, or arithmetic average, score of 1.3 for this variable. Thus, an aver of 1.3 religious services are run by inmates in the typical state prison in America is what this data suggests.

            The survey also asked “What are the names of the top three religious services being run by prisoners?”, but this narrative information is content analyzed and therefore reported later in this document.


            The survey asked “Please estimate what percentage of the inmates in your facility are mentally ill. ____Percent”. The mean, or arithmetic average, for this variable derived from the data collected for the present research was that 12.2 percent of American adult prison inmates are mentally ill. Now this is the estimate from those who supervise the inmates. It is the estimate from within.


            This is the ultimate measure of gang denial: if you cannot talk about the gang problem openly, then you are probably in gang denial as a matter of state policy if that is where the “pressure” came from. The survey asked “Do you receive any pressure from state officials to "play down" gang activity?”. The results indicated that only 4.3 percent answered “yes”, and that therefore it is very rare for prisons to receive this kind of pressure to deny the gang problem.


            The survey asked “During the last twelve month period, have there been any disturbances related to gang members in your facility?”. The results indicate that 43.9 percent of the facilities included in the sample report having such a disturbance in the last year.

            The survey also asked “During the last twelve month period, have there been any disturbances related to racial conflict in your facility?”. Here the statistical analysis revealed that 38.9 percent reported such a racial disturbance among inmates within the last year.

            The survey also asked “During the last twelve month period, have there been any disturbances related to religious conflicts in your facility?”. Here it was found that basically about one out of ten facilities in American corrections reported this kind of disturbance in the last year. The research found that 11.6 percent of the correctional facilities reported having a disturbance related to religious conflicts in their institution. This is the new kind of American prison riot: the religious riot. And, more often than not, some type of extremist activity is often associated with the conditions giving rise to this new type of riot. This extremist activity typically means some type of ideological polarization already exists and is represented within the social organization of the inmates (e.g., through their gangs, STG’s, etc).


            The survey asked “Do staff in your facility sometimes find it necessary to negotiate with gang members in order to keep the peace?”. The research results indicated that only 12.7 percent of the respondent report they are willing to negotiate with gang members to keep the peace. Thus, only one in ten such institutions, overall would be expected to do this.


            The survey asked “When was the last time your facility had a hostage situation involving inmates and staff? 19_____ or 200___ Or ____Never”. Basically, only about one in five institutions in America has ever experienced this kind of problem. Some 78.7 percent of the respondents indicated they had never had such a hostage situation involving inmates and staff.

            The respondents recalled events dating back to 1973 and as recently as 2004 as seen below: 


Year    N reporting this as their last date of a Hostage Incident

1973    1

1977    2

1978    1

1979    1

1980    2

1981    1

1984    2

1985    1

1986    1

1987    2

1989    4

1990    2

1991    3

1994    1

1995    2

1996    2

1997    1

1998    1

2002    2

2003    4

            Thus, there were four respondents who reported having a hostage incident in the year 2003; none in 1999, or 2000, or 2001, which was apparently a lull period for those in this sample.


            The survey asked “Have most of your staff and employees received training in cultural diversity?”. The results showed that 83.3 percent indicated “yes” to this question about whether most of their staff and employees have had diversity training. Still, the types of facilities that have not had this kind of training and who might benefit from it are worthy of additional analysis for future research.


            The survey asked “For your entire state correctional system, when was the last major inmate riot? 19____ or 200___ (Please indicate year) ___Never”. A small number indicated never in this regard because it was a measure of statewide activity and not limited to their particular facility, and may also reflect lack of knowledge itself about this historical issue, but either way some 11 percent indicated never.

            The distribution of dates and N of facilities for that year range from 1954 to the current year as seen below:


1954                1

1960                1

1968                2

1970                2

1972                1

1974                2

1975                2

1978                2

1979                2

1980                7

1981                10

1982                3

1983                2

1985                6

1986                1

1988                4

1989                2

1990                1

1991                3

1992                6

1993                11

1994                5

1995                8

1996                4

1997                4

1998                6

1999                4

2000                2

2001                5

2002                5

2003                15

2004                8

            It is important to note that “last major inmate riot” could obviously include a “gang riot”. The riot in Folsom Prison in April of 2002 is a good example of what a “gang riot” is. One gang attacks another gang, and you have a gang riot. The gangs are typically mortal enemies, and do not need much provocation.

            In the 2002 Folsom prison gang riot, there apparently there was a unique factor. When the Mexican Mafia (Surenos) attacked their rival the Nuestra Familia (Nortenos), a claim that surfaced in the media coverage of the event was that the associate warden, Michael D. Bunnell, who allowed the two gangs together into the prison yard, was himself associated with the Mexican Mafia (Thompson, 2004a). There were over 20 inmates injured in the riot, but most importantly one correctional officer subsequently committed suicide — Capt. D.F. Pieper. He had been demoted after the riot, and his suicide note claimed corruption in corrections, such that his wife believes a criminal coverup continues. However, federal authorities found no abuses in the aftermath of this riot, as many of the gang member inmates had been in lockdown 23 hours a day for 21 months after the riot. The internal investigation by California state officials found no criminal wrongdoing by correctional administrators.

            There are a lot of examples of prison gang riots that have also been prevented by a good STG intelligence system, having STG coordinators in every prison. Such was the case when Mickey Cobra gang leader William James, Sr., in the Wisconsin corrections system decided he wanted to start a gang riot. This shows useful factual and historical information from case law decisions, because after having been found guilty of violating severe disciplinary rules such as “do not start a riot”, this gang leader sued his state corrections system and it ended up in court. What James tried to do is work with other gangs to start a riot, the problem was there were two informants who relayed the information on how four different gangs were working together to ignite a riot, and the riot was prevented. In a 2002 decision by the Court of Appeals, the appeal by James to have his disciplinary code conviction overturned was rejected and the prison disciplinary decision was affirmed (James v. McCaughtry, Wisc.).

            On April 11, 1993, Easter Sunday, a group of Islamic inmates started Ohio’s deadliest riot ever. As the riot unfolded, two other gangs got involved: the Aryan Brotherhood took charge of an area, and the Gangster Disciples took charge of another area of the same cell block. Eleven days later, nine inmates and one correctional officer were dead, most of the inmates were executed by a roving “death squad” intent on killing snitches (Pfeifer, 2002). The case of State v. LaMar (2002) provides fertile historical and factual information on the nature of this kind of prison riot. The sad message of this riot is why society has prisons in the first place, without legitimate authority around, in the case of this riot, complete mayhem and anarchy was the rule of the day at the prison. Keith LaMar was the inmate in charge of the death squad. LaMar was subsequently convicted and sentenced to the death penalty. LaMar was not even a part of any of the gangs involved in the riot, he was just willing to work for them once the riot was underway.

            There are also examples from around the world of the STG problem, thus reviewing a few of these will help place the present findings in a larger international context. In the country of Turkey, a notorious gang from Istanbul known as the Karagumruk gang in November 2000 instigated a massive prison riot, taking 29 staff as hostages (including their equivalent of the warden and his four associate wardens). Two days later five were dead as troops stormed the prison. Gangs are still active in and out of prison in Turkey.

            The gang-turf war has long ago spread from the streets to the prison system. Jails routinely experience this kind of gang riot, such as occurred in July 2004 at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center in Cameron County, Texas. In this gang riot a fight occurred between members of the Vallucos and the Texas Syndicate, the latter being a well-known and established gang. Different cell blocks began fighting almost simultaneously. Over 100 inmates took part in the riot, about a dozen of whom were injured.

            On August 18, 2004 a gang riot resulted in 31 inmates being killed in a San Salvador jail; typical of overcrowding which also contributes to disorder, this jail held over 3,000 inmates when it was designed to hold 800. The most problematic gang in this riot was the Mara Salvatrucha 18 (Mara 18). Most American gang experts know about MS 13, and some have noticed a MS 18 presence, but the MS 18 is much more well known in their country of origin (El Salvador). The Mara 18 gang was the first wave of immigrant children who turned to street gangs, primarily in the Los Angeles area, where there was a longstanding gang known as “18th Street”. Some of the new kids from El Salvador joined the 18th Street gang and in doing so created an allied but new gang called “Mara 18", and when deported back to their country of origin, the Mara 18 culture came back home as well.

            Guatamala’s prison system is similarly overcrowded, there a gang riot occurred because the inmates wanted to kill a gang leader named Cesar Beteta Raymundo, who was among 17 inmates hacked to death with machetes and improvised blade weapons; the victims were often decapitated, or burned. The gang leader’s head was put on a stick and it was paraded around the prison (see “17 Killed in Gory Guatemala Prison Riot”, Daily Times, Dec. 27, 2002).

            The gang riot in the prison in El Dorado, Venezuela in August of 1997 where 29 prisoners were killed, set a new standard in brutality. The local gang tricked an STG consisting entirely of Guajiro Indians into dropping their homemade weapons. The local gang gave a standard inmate code alarm that the correctional officers were on the way to shake down the prison. The Guajiro Indians had killed a gang leader a few days earlier. The Guajiro Indians believed the gambit that there really was a massive “shake down” coming, and they dropped or discarded their weapons, at which point they were attacked from all sides. Two of the Guajiro Indians were decapitated, and their heads were used by local gang members to play soccer, who joyfully kicking the heads from one end of the prison cell block to the other end (See “29 Inmates Killed in Venezuela Prison Riot”, August 29, 1997, CNN World News).

            Again in November, 2003 seven inmates were killed in a gang riot at the Vista Hermosa prison in Venezuela; the gangs were fighting over control of the rackets inside the prison; this was a troubled prison system, in the time frame of one year 2001-2002 some 240 convicts were killed (Coleman, 2003).  

            What are some places that are “ripe” or potentially “overdue” for gang riots, places the educated ready would probably not be surprised if gang riots erupt there in the future? Los Angeles County Jail and Cook County Jail in Chicago both have major problems as mega jails. In late 2003 and early 2004, five inmates were killed in Los Angeles County Jail, and these were gang-related for the most part (LeDuff, 2004). In places like Cook County Jail that have tremendous staffing shortages while dealing with overloaded inmate populations, this is a “critical indicator”: a much more serious gang riot could erupt at any time at either of these two county jails.



            The survey asked “Does your facility use video taped/televised services when a chaplain/volunteer is not available for inmate worship services?”. The results indicated that only 18.8 percent reported “yes”, that they make use of this alternative as a means of providing for the worship needs of inmates. It is not known if the low incidence of usage of such taped programming reflects the lack of programming content or choices in this regard.


            The survey asked “Do you feel that prisoners could practice their religious beliefs in the privacy of their cell/room (or by means of closed-circuit televised broadcast), without the need for group participation?”. The issue, of course, is what is qualitatively different about group versus individual worship experiences. But the fact is that 77.2 percent of the respondents in this study felt that prisoners could satisfy their religious worship needs without the need for group events. Please note that this finding is consistent with the earlier related finding where the survey found that 72.5 percent of the respondents felt prisoners could meet their religious needs individually without group worship. The issue of doing so in their own cell is simply a more specific example of how it could be accomplished without group worship.



            The survey asked “The "threshold" or density of gang inmates refers to the percentage of the inmate population who are gang members. At what percentage of the inmate population (% who are members of gangs or STGs) would you feel that a severe gang problem exists? _____%”. The mean or average score for this variable was 16.7 percent. Thus, by all measures of the estimated actual density nationwide, the respondents tend to report that their current condition is that a “severe gang problem” exists.



            The survey asked “Do the more dangerous security threat groups that exist in your facility also exist by the same name in communities outside of the correctional environment?”. The results show that 88.4 percent responded “yes”, that is that the more dangerous prison gangs or STG’s also exist by the same name on the streets. So, basically, in almost 9 out of 10 cases the prison gang is also a street gang.

            A good example of this would be the Nuestra Familia prison gang which was found to be responsible for a murder spree in the Santa Rosa, California (Geniella, 2001). The Nuestra Familia is a Hispanic gang whose epicenter is northern California and who exist as the primary enemy of the Mexican Mafia from southern California. The Nuestra Familia had for a long time been in the business of ordering “hits” on rival gang members, even their own errant members, and having younger members on the street carry out these contract murders. At one point, with seven dead bodies to their credit, the Nuestra Familia felt so emboldened that it wanted to assassinate an aggressive no-nonsense prosecutor from Sonoma County, California. The killings continued until someone noticed in 1998 that a pattern seemed to account for a lot of homicides and many other crimes. It was only at this point that local officials “discovered” that the Nuestra Familia was not just a prison gang, that it also operated on the streets of California communities.


            The survey asked “In your opinion, have gangs/STGs tended to result in more improvised weapons production (e.g., shanks, etc) among inmates in your facility?”. Some 52.5 percent responded “yes” to this item. Thus, just over half of the prisons in America would apparently have this condition where gangs/STG’s bring a related problem of improvised weapons manufacturing.

            Generally, the American prison problem in regard to weapons stockpiled by gangs pales by comparison with prisons abroad, say in Venezuela. In one month alone during 1998 in Venezuela “prison searches uncovered 2,258 knives, nine pistols, twelve revolvers, 463 homemade firearms, a rifle, and most alarmingly four grenades” (1998, Human Rights Watch, June 17).


            The survey asked “Do your staff receive formalized training in dealing with the gang problem?”. Some 72.5 percent indicated “yes”, and among this group it was found that the average or mean amount of gang/STG training was about 6.4 hours in duration. But the fact remains, that over a fourth of the facilities in this survey are reporting that their staff receive no such formalized training specifically dealing with gangs/STGs. It is obviously a dangerous situation for correctional staff.

            Of related concern, and obviously something far beyond the scope of the present study, is to evaluate the quality of the training that is offered to staff and employees on gang/STG and disruptive group issues. From reviewing some of the “learning objectives” in the Texas adult corrections system it would seem an issue worth examining. Consider this possible error that could confuse Texas corrections staff: “Street gangs are loosely knit as a whole with no written rules or constitution. Prison gangs are highly structured with by-laws and/or a constitution that is strictly enforced” (www.tcleose.state.tx, 2004: p. 2). Actually, almost all of the street gangs from the Chicago gang epicenter have written by-laws and constitutions. Thus, while it is fair to say that in a lot of the cases these street gang constitutions and by-laws were originally written by their imprisoned members, it might be problematic with regard to facts to claim street gangs as a whole have no written rules or constitution.

            A lot of correctional officers in America are members of AFSCME which is why over a decade ago, AFSCME passed the “Gangs in Prisons and Jails” resolution calling for specific minimum standards on training for correctional officers:

            “It is the policy of this International Union that formal instruction about understanding and evaluating prison gangs should be integrated into the preservice training for all correctional employees and that such instruction be continually updated through the in-service training that correctional employees receive”, and further

            “That the training model on the subject of prison gangs include how and why gangs develop; the different types of gangs; including those identified with a particular region or area of the country; gang structures; their body markings and any warning signs indicating their presence; how gangs communicate with each other; and the different strategies for dealing with prison gangs” (Lonzo, 1994).

            Still the trend has been towards increases over the years in providing formal training on gangs, as evident in the trend documented by the following NGCRC survey results:

            1991    1992    1993    1994    1995    1999    2004

YES    40.8% 45.4% 46.8% 49.5% 58%    67.4% 72.5%

NO      59.2% 54.6% 53.2% 50.5% 42%    32.6% 27.5%


            The survey asked “Have gang members been a problem in terms of assaults on your staff?”. The results indicated that 20.4 percent responded “yes” to this survey item. Thus, in about one-fifth of the correctional facilities in America gangs are problem in terms of assaults on correctional officers. Often these are very serious assaults, resulting in permanent and life-threatening injuries to correctional officers. One common scenario is where the gang “ambushes” a correctional officer who has been very diligent as doing his/her work even if it meant seizing contraband from the gang or the gang’s illegal operations.


            The survey asked “ Have gang members been a problem in terms of threats on staff?”. What the research results showed is that 33.7 percent responded “yes”. Thus, a third of the respondents nationwide report gang members as being a problem in terms of threats against correctional officers or staff. The gang or STG will always try to intimidate anyone, especially staff, if they think they can get away with it.


            The survey asked “Do you feel that federal legislators need to modify the RLUIPA in regard to the security issues facing adult correctional institutions where inmates might be expected to abuse religious rights?”.

            However, by examining the subsample that answered “yes” to the question “do you know what RLUIPA is?”, the statistic rises only slightly to 91.4 percent, and 80.9 percent among those who did not know what RLUIPA is, which is not a statistically significant difference by the Chi-square test.


            Recall from a previous item in the survey that only about a fourth of the facilities nationwide are reporting that they have any program or service with the goal of improving race relations among inmates. It is useful, at this juncture, to remind the reader that these survey findings are presented by means of the actual order in which the survey item appeared in the survey instrument. This paper will, at time of summarizing, tie these related findings together. The survey asked the additional question “Do you believe a program that sought to improve race relations among inmates could reduce the gang violence problem in your facility?”. Here it was found that 48.1 percent answered “yes”, that is, in their belief a program focused on improving race relations as a goal might have the added benefit of also reducing the gang violence problem. To the extent that prison gangs/STG’s are also homogeneous with respect to race, then the gang conflict and problems with racial conflict tend to involve the same problems.

            The work by Wilkinson and Unwin (1999) would provide one strategy towards improving race relations and it is one of the few systems linking the gang problem to the racial conflict problem; and, as such, is required reading for anyone seeking to explore this avenue of intervention.


            The survey asked “In your estimate, what percentage of all institutional management problems in your facility are caused by gangs or gang members? _____% “. The data analysis showed a mean or average score of 20.6 percent for this variable. Thus, about a fifth of all such problems are caused by gangs or gang members.



            The survey asked “In your estimate, what percentage of all violence among inmates in your facility is caused by gangs or gang members? _____%”. The data analysis revealed a mean score of 26.3 percent for this variable. Thus, about a fourth of all violence among inmates appears gang-related.

HIGH EFFECTIVENESS RATINGS: TELEPHONE MONITORING PREVENTS GANG LEADERS FROM RUNNING THEIR OUTSIDE GANG OVER THE PHONE                                 The survey asked “In your opinion is telephone monitoring an effective technique to prevent gang leaders from maintaining their ties to outside gang members?”. The results indicated that 85.7 percent answered “yes”. Thus, there is strong support for the belief that this is an effective technique for preventing gang leaders from running their outside gang over the prison phone. In some cases inmates have adapted, improvised, and overcome this strategy of telephone monitoring by having very small cell phones smuggled into to them, allowing gang leaders to stay in constant touch not just with their outside gang, but with other gang leaders in other prisons, potentially anywhere in the world.

            During “shakedowns”, inmates with the cellular phones simply destroy them, breaking them into small pieces that can be flushed down a toilet. Using the factor of “corruption”, the gang will then have a “mule” bring in a new replacement for the cellular phone that had to be destroyed.


            The survey asked “In your opinion is mail monitoring an effective technique to prevent gang leaders from maintaining their ties to outside gang members?”. Some 87.3 percent of the respondents answered “yes’. Thus, there is strong support for the idea that mail monitoring is an effective technique dealing with gangs and STGs in prison today.


            The survey asked “Have any of the inmates in your facility corresponded with the _________?” where the blank here was the actual name of an actual extremist group based outside of the United States that has a declared purpose in agitating American inmates. The organization operates an extensive Internet “how to get in contact with political prisoners” campaign and is probably the largest such group in the world today. The research indicated that 14.5 percent of the respondents report inmate correspondence with this group. It will not be the policy of this report to reveal the name of the group in this public version of the report, because there is no need to give this group any feedback on how well they are doing abusing American freedoms to incite American inmates.


            The survey asked “Do you think anything can be done to reduce racial conflicts among inmates?”. Here the data indicated that 68.4 percent answered “yes”. Thus, over two-thirds agree that with the right programs something might be achieved in reducing racial conflicts among inmates. This finding is consistent, generally, with other findings pertaining to the theory that race relations (racial tension, racial conflict, etc) is a causal factor in explaining gang/STG violence. Not everyone is convinced here that anything can be done to reduce racial conflicts, apparently just under a third (31.6%) seem to take a more pessimistic viewpoint that nothing can be done to improve race relations inside a correctional facility.


            The survey asked “Does your facility have a special program for inmates who want to renounce gang life and live gang free?”. Some 20.3 percent of the respondents indicated that “yes” they did have such a program for inmates who want to renounce gang life. As a generalization, it is safe to say that the literature has yet to reveal any evaluation research of any kind on the level of effectiveness of these kind of programs. Even the names of these programs are not listed or compiled anywhere on a national level, nor is it known if they are formally staffed, or if they are ad hoc inmate-led programs, or if they are not programs per se, but rather “policies that encourage behavior in that direction”.


            The survey included a question about the inmate count at the institution, how many inmates were male, and how many were female. This was included for the sole purpose of being able to evaluate how effectively our sample was randomized so that it accurately reflects known national parameters such as the percentage of American prison inmates who are female. Our data revealed that 5.9 percent of the inmates in the present study were females. This is almost a direct hit or bulls eye, statistically, in comparison to the known statistic in this regard. Historically, females have accounted for about 5 percent, a little less, a little more, of the overall state prison population, and this dates back over the years, as a fairly stable trend since such statistics have been kept. This finding has no direct value to the study of gangs, it simply bolsters the external validity of this research.


            The survey did collect data on the level of security of the institutions responding to the survey. The findings indicate: 36.1 percent were minimum security facilities, 36.7 percent were medium security facilities, and 27.2 percent were maximum security facilities. The data seem to provide a continuum of the levels of security available. It cannot be said that the data lack “hard prison life”, or that the survey has failed to analyze lower level security facilities.


            The survey asked “Do you believe that providing tuition support for staff could help control the prison gang problem?”. Some 54.9 percent agreed, that this could help. Obviously, it is reasonable to assume that the tuition would help correctional officers study criminal justice and the social sciences (sociology, psychology, etc) where they would be better equipped to manage human behavior.


            The survey asked the scenario question of “what percentage of the inmates in your facility are so hostile towards their society that if they were approached by a foreign terrorist organization, what we call today’s inmates might be tomorrow’s terrorists, in my opinion ____% of the inmates in this facility would fit that profile”. The range here for this variable was between a low of zero percent to a high of 90 percent. The mean or arithmetic average was that 4.78 percent of American prison inmates might fit this profile. Which means a lot of potential Timothy McVeigh’s or Jose Padilla’s. Meanwhile, the national trend has been to abolish parole officer jobs who might be able to supervise them upon their release.

            In early September, 2004, as this report was being prepared, a wave of incendiary letters were targeting government officials, and all of the destructive devices had been mailed from the Ely State Prison, in Ely, Nevada. Using a book of matches, the letters were designed to ignite into flames when the letter was opened. The governors from five states (Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Utah and Washington) received such incendiary letters. Because all of the letters were postmarked from the Ely prison, it is reasonable to assume an inmate there was responsible.


            The survey asked “Does your institution have any full-time staff person who serves as a STG intelligence coordinator”. The results were that 65.6 percent answered “yes”. Thus, about two-thirds, nationwide, have an STG coordinator. This job is not always called “STG Coordinator”. Other similar names exist, but the job is pretty much the same regardless of what it is called. This is also a variable that could fluctuate by level of institutional security reported by the respondent.


            The survey asked “In your opinion, do gang members tend to have a higher recidivism rate?”. Some 82.2 percent indicated that yes in their opinion gang members do tend to show a higher recidivism rate. Thus, at least from the perspective of the staff surveyed in the research reported here, gang members are more likely to return to prison after release. This is, by the way, consistent with a larger literature on the matter.


            The survey asked “Does your institutional classification system take gang membership into account?”. Some 66.8 percent answered “yes”, that their classification system does in fact take gang membership into account. It would seem to be a somewhat underdeveloped classification system not to take gang membership into account, so in this respect the one-third of the sample who report their classification system ignores this factor — this remains a puzzling finding begging for further analysis. Only limited analysis was undertaken here, and it can be reported that this did not differ significantly in terms of the security level of the facilities responding to the survey (minimum, medium, maximum security levels). Additional secondary analysis is certainly justified for the sample developed here.


            The survey asked “Do you believe "no human contact status" is effective for the control of gang members?”. Only 40.8 percent of the respondents answered “yes”. Thus, two-fifths of the respondents were willing to state that the “no human contact status” approach is effective regarding the control of gang members. There seems to be a growing concern about the possibility that the no human contact status approach is something that not just raises the possibility of inducing greater mental health problems among the inmates, but there are also some who believe that when used against a gang leader it may inadvertently elevate the gang leader to a martyrdom status.


            The survey included a long list of methods and techniques previously known to be used to control gangs and STGs, and the respondents were asked to “check” each one that their facility uses to control gangs and STGs. The findings provided below indicate that the top ten methods are: transfers (82.1%), monitoring mail (81.5%) and phone calls (72.8%), case-by-case (72.3%), segregation (67.4), use of informers (64.1%), displacing members to different facilities, interrupting communications, isolating leaders, the Task Force method to monitor and track gang members tied with locking up gang leaders in high security facilities.

            Rank Ordered Distribution of Use of Methods to Control Gangs.

            % Yes             Methods/Techniques to Control Gangs/STG’s

             82.1%              Transfers

             81.5%             Monitor mail

            72.8%             Monitor phone calls

            72.3%             Case by case dealings

             67.4%             Segregation

              64.1%            Use of informers

            58.7%             Displacing members to different facilities

             52.2%             Interrupting communications

             48.9%             Isolating leaders

            40.8%             Task Force to monitor and track gang members

             40.8%             Locking up gang leaders in high security facilities

             32.1%             Lock down

             26.6%             Balance the number of rival gang members living in the same unit

             25.5%             Prosecution

             20.7%             Meeting with gang leaders on "as needed" basis

             4.9%               Ignoring their existence

            6.0%               Infiltration

             3.8%               Coopting of prisoners to control gangs

             3.3%               Joint meetings between various gang leaders



            The survey asked “Do you believe that the gang members have significantly affected your correctional environment?”. The results showed that 63.6 percent responded “yes” to this survey question. Thus, just over three-fifths of the respondents did in fact believe that gang members had significantly impacted upon their correctional environment.


            The survey asked “in your opinion, what percentage of all illicit drugs are brought into your facility by prison gang members? ____%”. The results indicated that a mean or statistical average amount of 34.5 percent of the illicit drugs are smuggled in by gang members. Obviously, the gang members have some competition and apparently do not completely dominate this lucrative feature of the underground economy.


            The survey asked “in your opinion, what percentage of the illicit drug trade in your facility is controlled by prison gang members?”. The data resulting from this survey item indicated a mean value of 41.7 percent. Thus, about two-fifths of the illicit drug trade in prison is controlled by gang members. Again, a larger share appears to be “open season”: not known to be specifically controlled by any one gang or STG.

            How extensive is the drug trade behind bars? While it is rare to surface in print, it does sometimes happen, as in the case of the drug trafficking that was going on in the federal Bureau of Prisons prison — Coleman — in Florida. In the summer of 2004, it became a news story when 19 inmates were indicted for various drug charges (Associated Press, 2004) that included the seizure of $144,00 in drugs (377 grams of marijuana and 36 grams of heroin) during the investigation. A cook employed at the Coleman penitentiary was also indicted and plead guilty to smuggling in drugs for some of the inmates. This drug operation was typical of gang dominated drug operations behind bars.

            In the 1993 survey, it was reported that 31.4 percent of the illegal drug trade behind bars was dominated by gang or STG members.

            The 1995 survey results ranged from a low of zero percent to a high of 100 percent. The mean or average was that 35.0 percent of the overall illicit drug trade in these correctional facilities was dominated by gang or STG members.

            In the 1999 survey, while the data suggest a progressive increase, this is not a very substantial increase. In 1999, we found that 37.2 percent of the prison drug trade is controlled by gang members.

            So, over time, there is a progressive movement upward in this variable.

            1993                1995                1999                2004

Mean  31.4%             35.0%             37.2%             41.7%


            The survey asked “in your opinion, what percentage of the illicit gambling income in your facility is controlled by prison gang members?”. The data from this variable produced a mean or arithmetic average value of 33.6 percent. Thus, about a third of the illicit or illegal gambling income in prison is controlled by gangs. Generally, the gang that controls the yard controls the gambling (poker tables, dice games, etc). In the card games, it is typical for the games to offer “dealers choice”, but the house in the gang-run poker table gets a 10 to 20 percent cut.


            The survey asked “generally, is overcrowding a problem in your facility?”. Some 44.7 percent of the respondents indicated “yes”, that they did face this problem of overcrowding. Thus, just over half did not face a problem of overcrowding is what the data show.



            The survey asked “please estimate how many violent assaults among inmates that resulted in serious or life-threatening injuries to inmates during the last twelve month period.”. The results indicated a mean or average of 4.89 such violent inmate assaults for each of the responding correctional institutions during the last year. Thus, a little more than one each quarter, is what this tends to amount to.



            The survey asked the respondents to agree or disagree with the attitudinal item ”a zero-tolerance policy is the best approach for dealing with gangs and gang members”. Not surprisingly, some 91.5 percent of the respondents either indicated “strongly agree” or “agree”. Only 1.6 percent indicated they disagree or strongly disagree. And 6.9 percent indicated they were uncertain.


            The survey asked “please estimate what percentage of the inmate-against-inmate assaults involve gang members?”. The results showed that an average of 31.5 percent of the inmate against inmate assaults involved gang members. Thus, the larger share of assaults in prison apparently do not involve gang members.


            The survey asked “do Islamic inmates have a separate gang?”. The results showed that 44.4 percent of the responding correctional facilities now report in the year 2004 that Islamic inmates have a separate gang. The survey did ask a follow-up question about the names of these Islamic prison gangs. This narrative information is analyzed and presented later in this report. At this juncture the presentation order is still covering the descriptive statistical findings.


            The survey asked “do gang members generally tend to file more law suits against your institution than non-gang member inmates?”. Only 12.7 percent of the responding facilities reported “yes”, that gang members file more law suits than non-gang members. Generally, law suits are not higher among gang members is what this data suggests.


            The survey asked “in general, which type of gang group poses more danger to your facility: a street gang (has its origins outside of prison), or a prison gang (has its origins inside of prison)”. Strangely, the survey found a 50 - 50 split here: 50 percent indicated street gang, and 50 percent indicated prison gang. The responding facilities were evenly divided over this issue of which was worse the prison gang or the street gang.


            The survey asked “have gang members tried to control any religious program choices at your facility?”. The results showed that 40.3 percent indicated “yes”, that gang members had tried to control religious programs in their correctional facilities. This could have something to do with the new type of prison riot: the religious riot reported earlier in this report.



            The survey asked “has a gang or STG in your facility tried to use religious meetings as a way of simply holding a gang meeting?”. The results indicate that 61.4 percent of the facilities responding to the survey answered “yes”, that they had seen this type of subterfuge in their correctional facilities. They call themselves a religion to gain the rights of assembly inside prison, and then act and behave like a gang, is what happens in this kind of scenario.

            For example, the way this can work would be the situation where a group already has legally obtained recognition as a religion and then subsequently has a liberal policy with regard to dual membership, and thus tends to favor certain types of gangs. This was the case in one prison, where the informant described the MSTA:

            The MSTA, they harbor Vice Lords, Latin Counts, and Latin Kings, they allow them to have their meetings within the MSTA meeting, because technically the MSTA meeting is legal”.

So what happens is a legally recognized religious group “allows” gangs to hold mini-meetings or “consultations” off to one side in what can be described as a conspicuous but not disruptive process — a kind of meeting within a meeting.


            The survey asked “has your facility developed written standards and guidelines for religious staff and visiting chaplains regarding what is appropriate behavior and language for a secure correctional environment?”. Some 84.2 percent of the responding prisons indicated “yes”, that such written standards are in place. Thus, few institutions today have not seen fit to develop or implement such standards.


            The survey asked the respondents to provide an estimate of the percentage of their inmates who were white, Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other. Some 45.3 percent were Black, 41.6 percent white, 11.4 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 5.5 percent were other.


            Some 44.8 percent of the respondents considered their facilities to be community-based. And, apparently that can mean a lot of things.

            In terms of the types of facilities, most 73.8 percent considered themselves to be adult correctional institutions, 12.5 percent community correctional centers, 4.4 percent penitentiaries, 4.4 percent work/farm/forestry/conservation, 1.9 percent boot camp/shock incarceration, and a small representation of: youth, reception/diagnostic center, medical facilities.


            The survey asked “in your opinion, do you expect the gang problem in corrections to increase or decrease in the next few years, or do you think the problem will remain at the same level it is now?”. Some 71.6 percent indicated it would increase, some 2.6 percent said it would decrease, and about a fourth (25.8%) felt it would remain at the same level.


            The survey asked “in your opinion, do you expect the problem of inmate violence from gang members to increase or decrease in the next few years, or do you think the problem will remain at the same level it is now?”. Some 70.5 percent indicated it would increase, some 2.6 percent felt it would decrease, and 26.8 percent felt it would remain at the same or current level.


            The survey asked “in your opinion, do you expect the problem of gang members abusing their religious rights to increase or decrease in the next few years, or do you think the problem will remain at the same level it is now?”. Some 59.8 percent felt it would increase, some 2.1 percent felt it would decrease, and 38.1 percent felt it would remain the same as current.


            The survey asked “is it okay to use the zip code or geographical identifier of the responding agency in the analysis and reporting of the research results?”, and some 88.2 percent authorized this use. There is no such use presented in this present report.



            Some 92 percent also wanted a free copy of the report. The preliminary findings, in brief, were mailed out to all respondents in August, 2004. This printed final report is also being provided to those who requested it, free of charge.

            And this concludes the presentation of descriptive statistical findings from the survey and at this juncture in the report, it is appropriate to turn to the presentation of results from analyzing narrative data.



            Most of the white gangs/STG’s in American prisons today are the breeding grounds for future “Timothy McVeighs”. The findings in Tables 1, 2 and 3 are summarized from a content analysis undertaken on the open-ended survey item which asked the prison respondent to identify the name of the separate gang for white inmates. Technically there are often several in a gang infested prison, so what the respondents seem to have done is reported the largest or most troublesome of the white gangs. Indeed, one of the most interesting findings of this exploratory research component of the overall research project was that it was able to identify so many different separate white gangs/STG’s nationwide.

            Table 1 presents the top ten white prison gangs in America today. The ranking system here is based on the extent of the problem across jurisdictions. For example, it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this problem that the Aryan Brotherhood gang is listed as the number one gang on this national list. The Aryan Brotherhood or AB’s have been documented in all 50 states, and this dates back over a decade. The book entitled The Hot House by Pete Earley is based on interviews from AB’s in the federal prison system and is a very accurate portrayal of the gang’s sophistication and its violent potential (Earley, 1992).

            There are, of course, some organized alternatives to the Aryan Brotherhood, such as the Aryan Nation and a wide variety of local and regional skinhead gangs. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) are, of course, on the list of the top five white gangs in America as well.

            White prison gangs, as a subset of the prison gang problem generally, are such a massive social problem that it is a kind of social problem that is never ever likely to be “solved” per se. As will be seen one of the major causes or factors giving rise to and impetus to white gangs is white racism. If no programs exist to address this, then obviously the problem of white racism and the political extremism associated with it will simply expand and increase over time. Could the problem be successfully attacked? Maybe, perhaps, it is possible at least to imagine a systematic approach to dealing with this problem. But it is just not a major priority for America today.

            In the racially charged tension of the prison system in America, most white gangs are in a constant “state of war” with Black or African-American gangs. All of those gangs in Table 1, which represents the top ten white gangs in America, fit this pattern of also being white racist extremist gangs (WREG’s). If anyone or any group thought they could successfully attack, neutralize, or even reverse extreme racist viewpoints held by individuals, then they need to write up their program for application to prison inmate populations. Such a program is sorely needed nationwide, and if it could work even to achieve modest gains in the desired direction, then it would have genuine significant positive impact overall on the prison system. It is important to raise this issue because in a separate question in the survey directly asked the prisons if they had such a program. While a small percentage indicated they did have such a program, it is our understanding that these are for the most part informal initiatives, not formal programs that would be expected to have any kind of great impact.

            It is important to note, for the official record, that not all white prison gangs are necessarily white racists in their overt declaration of purpose and behavior. For example, to examine other white prison gangs in anything other than the top 10 list, we will find a few gangs that are not inherently or patently or blatantly racist. Perhaps we should say that even if they are racist, or have lots of racist members, such “non-racist” gangs may also have an alliance with Black or African-American gangs. What explains this phenomenon of what would otherwise be racist gangs, boldly sporting confederate flags or nazi symbols in their private worlds, but in their public world displaying a clear affinity with mainstream street gangs like the Gangster Disciples? Gang economics is what explains this unusual phenomenon: the white gangs, for reasons of economic necessity have had to make alliances with larger Black or African-American gangs for basic protection. Let us use one such gang that is not patently or blatantly “racist” but which is allied with Black gangs even though it is a white gang, as an example in greater detail — the Simon City Royals.

            The Simon City Royals, like the Insane Gangster Disciples, are two examples of white gangs that do not fit the expected pattern of being racially antagonistic to Blacks or African-Americans in the context of the prison gang environment. However, the Simon City Royals came from a tradition of “urban rebel, primarily northside Chicago in their origin. They could have easily become just another white racist gang, had it not been for one major historical development: how the same gang became an ally of Larry Hoover’s Gangster Disciple (GD) gang.

            The Simon City Royals (SCR’s) were a major northside Chicago street gang. The SCR’s in the mid-1970's found their leadership prosecuted and convicted and their members inside state prison in Illinois. The SCR’s had great drug connections, and the GD’s had the best “clout” in terms of protection inside the prison system of Illinois. Larry Hoover extended a unique cross-racial “gang alliance” to the SCR’s under a quid pro quo arrangement: the GD’s would be able to buy SCR drugs at established discount prices (SCR drug connections provided a better quality product in terms of the purity of the drug, e.g., cocaine in particular), and in return the SCR would be considered “folks” just like the GD’s, and thus all GD’s would be required to “protect” their fellow folks, even if these “folks” were white. To the SCR’s, this was a remarkably good deal: and the SCR’s quickly folded into the GD alliance. The SCR’s became a folks gang, they developed a formalized constitution explaining the “six points” alliance. And it became an official alliance system that has worked for over three decades now! Kids joining the SCR’s today ask themselves how this happened that they are white but are comrades to the GD’s, and their gang explains to them that it was a basic matter of economic survival. And it has greatly benefitted both gangs.

            Another example, other than the Simon City Royals, of a white gang would be the Insane Gangster Disciples. These are white kids who grew up admiring the hip-hop life, and once in custody found themselves face-to-face with the real thing: thus they dare not call themselves “real” Gangster Disciples, they call themselves “Insane Gangster Disciples”, aka White kids in the GD-identified gang. They get their “literature” right over the Internet, or through the GD book: Blueprint for Growth and Development (1993). They do exist by the same name independently of the GD’s, but they are in many respects spouting the same language and symbols as their Black or African-American GD counterparts. Sometimes, in prison, though, real GD’s do not want anything to do with “wannabe” white GD’s such as Insane GD’s. But the real GD will always take any pleasure or advantage offered in respect from an Insane white GD. Again, it is economics: it is an economic advantage to the real GD gang to have wannabe white GD’s in the wings offering free goods and services, thus the Insane GD gang is “tolerated” as a kind of white bread “auxiliary unit”. Within the real prison-based Gangster Disciple gangs, the African-American members generally view the IGD’s as subservient flunkies.

            The fact that today the SCR ride under the “six pointed star”, while other white gangs are basically independent of such a People/Folks or even a Crips/Bloods alliance system, is a tribute to the fiercely competitive nature of gang life: and how economic cooperation can overcome what would otherwise be the basis for racial enmity and conflict. Today, SCR’s are required to come to the aid and assistance of any GD under attack. Similarly, GD’s would be required to provide protection to SCR’s if they could do so. It is a national, some say international, pact that has worked quite successfully. It is not a “peace treaty”: this is not an example of a gang initiated peace treaty or truce. Many people are confused about “gang truces” and unfortunately believe in these deceptive ploys. For the record that the present author is extremely skeptical of the authenticity or effectiveness of such “gang truces” (e.g., truces established by the gangs themselves). The SCR were not at “war” with the GD’s prior to their “alliance”. They were informally interacting in juvenile detention facilities, jails, probation and parole caseloads, in private programs that mixed them together, and were “swapping” anyhow before their alliance took place. They were not declared enemies of each other prior to the alliance, they were not systematically at war with each other prior to the alliance.

            The alliance between the SCR’s and the GD’s was more of a marriage of convenience than anything else. Dating back to when the GD’s officially “kicked off” in that identity, 1974, when Larry Hoover stepped forward to lead the GD’s into a national gang organization, the GD’s were looking for anyone and any organization that could aid them to “move forward”. The SCR were an available resource to be exploited. All the GD’s had to do to reap the benefits of better drugs and better prices and more effectively delivered was to provide a symbolic representation that the GD’s were “part of the same gang family as the SCR”: they were allies in the “folks” gang alliance system.

            It is important to note, again, that both the SCR’s and the IGD’s exist by the same name as gangs in their respective geo-political jurisdictions (i.e., where they come from and where they operate). In recent years there has been a tendency within the SCR to “stay off the street, and avoid the heat” and thus the SCR can be found in a number of suburban communities where people would think they would not find “gangs”, many being collar communities around the Chicago metropolitan area. In these communities, the new wave of SCR are less oriented towards “street tactics” than they are to dominating the lucrative drug trade in their affluent communities. Their model of future growth is to replace the Chicago “outfit”, they want to become a new, and “more hip” version, of traditional organized crime. Thus, they “lay low”, they try not to attract law enforcement attention. They are less involved in “putting up graffiti” and more involved in the maintenance and expansion of their drug distribution system.

            One other caveat that needs to be provided here is that by no means has the data discussed here been meant to imply, by any means, that this research has been designed to provide an exhaustive list that identifies all white gangs in American prisons. It may very well be that the National Geographic Guide to Gangs In America maintained by the NGCRC is in fact the ideal mechanism for establishing such a national list, but that mission is far beyond the limited goal of the present research. It is sufficient to add here for the benefit of the novice gang reader that there are many more white gangs than are listed in Tables 1-3 that exist in the streets and correctional institutions of American society.

            Table 3 lists three white racist extremist prison gangs that clearly also exist on the streets and are causing a great deal of problems on the streets of one city in America: Roy, Utah. Three such white prison gangs (Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, Silent Aryan Warriors, and the Fourth Reich) have obviously began to work in concert to provide continuity of gang involvement from the prison to the streets (CNN, April 20, 2003). This came to the attention of local Roy Police in 1999 when the local population of extremist gang parolees from the Utah Department of Corrections rose suddenly in one small three block area from 3 to 12, and by 2003 had risen to over 100. Obviously, the white gangs were creating a new kind of urban compound, one that was designed to overload the local parole officer staff, making it easier for the white racist parolees to commit parole violations. Whether there is some larger plan or whether they are holding weekly meetings, paying dues, etc is unknown.

Table 1

The Top Ten White Prison Gangs/STG’s

Ranked by the Level of Their Representation in

The National Gang/STG Problem Behind Bars

1. Aryan Brotherhood — 55 citations in the sample

2. Aryan Nation — 26 citations in the sample

3. Skinheads — 22 citations in the sample

4. Ku Klux Klan — 17 citations in the sample

5. Peckerwoods --- 12 citations in the sample

6. Aryan Circle --- 8 citations in the sample

7. White Aryan Resistance (WAR) --– 5 citations in the sample

8. Neo-nazis — 5 citations in the sample

9. Dirty White Boys — 4 citations in the sample

10. United Aryan Brotherhood — 4 citations in the sample

Table 2

The Top 25 White Prison Gang/STG’s

In the USA: Unranked and in Alphabetical Order

1. Aryan Brotherhood

2. Aryan Brotherhood of Texas

3. Aryan Circle

4. Aryan Family

5. Aryan Nation

6. Brothers of White Strength (BOWS)

7. Christian Identity

8. Dirty White Boys

9. Irish Mob (IM)

10. Hammerskins

11. Ku Klux Klan

12. Nazi Low Riders (NLR)

13. Neo-nazis

14. Northsiders

15. Outlaw Mafia

16. Oklahoma Aryan Brotherhood

17. Pagans

18. Peckerwoods

19. Simon City Royals

20. Skinheads

21. Southern Brotherhood

22. United Aryan Brotherhood

23. White Aryan Resistance (WAR)

24. World Church of the Creator (WCOTC)

25. White Pride

Table 3

The Top 26-50 White Prison Gang/STGs

In the USA Today

(Not Ranked, In Alphabetical Order)

26. Aryan Knights

27. Aryan Warriors

28. Blood and Honor

29. Caucasian Cartel

30. Cincinnati Caucasian Cartel

31. DOTAR (Defenders of the Aryan Race)

32. European Kindred

33. Freight Train Riders Association (FTRA)

34. Hell’s Angels

35. Insane Gangster Disciples

36. Iron Eagle Skinheads

37. National Alliance

38. Posse Comitatus

39. Saxon Knightss

40. Silent Aryan Warriors

41. Soldiers of the Aryan Culture (SAC)

42. Sons of Silence

43. Texas Mafia

44. White Pride World Wide

45. White People Party

46. White Knights

47. United Brotherhood Kindred Alliance

48. Universal Aryan Brotherhood

49. Stone Mercenaries

50. Fourth (4th) Reich


            One of the open-ended questions on the survey asked “what the top three largest white racist extremist “religious” front groups that are proselytizing to the inmates in your facility?”. This narrative information allowed for codifying the counts within the long list of group names. By content analysis, therefore, it was possible to ultimately rank these groups in terms of the frequency they represented nationwide.

            Table 4 provides the “Top Ten” in terms of these white racist extremist religious front groups that are proselytizing American prison inmates today.

            Table 5 provides the list of other such white racist extremist religious front groups operating behind bars today, these are in alphabetical order and are not ranked in any way, other than the fact that these did not make the “top ten list”.

Table 4

The Top Ten White Racist Extremist Religious Front Groups

Proselytizing American Prison Inmates Today

(Ranked by Frequency Cited Nationally)

1. World Church of the Creator (36 citations)

2. Aryan Brotherhood (21 citations)

3. Aryan Nation (21 citations)

4. Ku Klux Klan (19 citations)

5. Asatru (16 citations)

6. Odinists (16 citations)

7. Christian Identity (13 citations)

8. Skinheads (12 citations)

9. Church of Jesus Christ Christian (10 citations)

10. Wotansvolk (AKA: Wootan, Wotanist) (8 citations)

Table 5

A List of Other Large White Racist Extremist “Religious” Front Groups

Proselytizing to American Prison Inmates Today

(Alphabetical Order, Not Ranked, and Not in the Top Ten)

Aryan Boyz

Aryan Front

Aryan Knights

Brotherhood Forever

Christian Nazarite

Christian Separatists

Cider Press

Church of the New Song

Creativity Movement

Dirty White Boys

Family Values

Fourteen Word Press

Green Anarchy

Harley Boys

Hitler’s Reich

Iron Eagle Skinheads

Keystone Skinheads

Kindred Layer

Kingdom Identity

National Alliance

Nazi Low Riders

New Order Knights of the KKK

New World Order


Oklahoma Aryan Brotherhood

Outlaw Bikers



Satanic Worshipers


United Brotherhood Kindred Alliance

Universal Aryan Brotherhood


White Wolves


            It is important to note, for the record, that the “Wicca” group cited in Table 5 may simply reflect that in one or more American prisons it has appeared to consist primarily of white inmates who are also racist extremists. Actually, outside of prison contexts Wicca is in no sense of the imagination homogeneous with respect to race in terms of its members — it is very integrated, very interracial, and of course transnational. The same can be said for “Satanists” and pagans.

            But most of those in Table 5 are hardcore white racist extremist gangs, well known to law enforcement and those who investigate hate groups.


            The survey asked the respondents to provide the names of the top three largest gangs that are represented among the inmates in their facility. This data was subjected to a content analysis and collapsed into categories to generate a count. The overall count, or frequency distribution, allowed us to generate the “Top Ten American Prison Gangs” which is provided in Table 6.

            As seen in Table 6, Crips, the Gangster Disciples, Bloods, Latin Kings, Vice Lords — the top five gangs behind bars in America today are street gangs. The Aryan Brotherhood are not normally considered a street gang, because they do not hang out on street corners, but the fact is they do operate outside of the prison. There is no gang in Table 6 that does not operate outside of prison.

            Table 7 provides the alphabetical listing of all of the prison gangs that emerged when the survey asked the respondents, nationwide, to list the top three gangs in their facility. The gangs in Table 7, however, are listed in alphabetical order and are not ranked with regard to size of any kind.

Table 6

The Top Ten Prison Gangs or Gangs in Prison in America

1. Crips (78 citations)

2. Gangster Disciples (60 citations)

3. Bloods (56 citations)

4. Latin Kings (35 citations)

5. Vice Lords (26 citations)

6. Aryan Brotherhood (21 citations)

7. Folks (21 citations)

8. White Supremacists (generic, 18 citations)

9. Surenos (Sur 13) (18 citations)

10. Five Percenters (13 citations)

Table 7

The Largest Prison Gangs in America: Alphabetical Listing

(Not Rank Ordered by Size)

Aryan Brotherhood

Aryan Brotherhood of Texas

Aryan Knights

Aryan Nation


Black Disciples

Black Guerilla Family

Black P. Stone Nation


Border Brothers


European Kindred

Five Percenters


Fruits of Islam

Gangster Disciples

Indian Brotherhood

Insane Gangster Disciple

Ku Klux Klan

La Familia

Las Carnales

Latin Counts

Latin Kings

La Raza

Little Rascals

Los Solidos


Mafia USO

Maniac Latin Disciples

Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13)


Mexican Mafia (AKA “Eme”)

Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA)

Nation os Islam



New Black Panther Party

Northern Hispanics (Norteno 14)

North Side Villains

Nubian Islamic Nation


Organized Crime

Outlaw Bikers


People/People gangs



Simon City Royals


Soldiers of the Aryan Culture

Sons of Samoa

South St. Louis Honkeys

Southern Brotherhood

Spanish Cobras

Surenos (aka SUR 13, aka Southern Hispanics)

Syndicate Nuevo Mexico


Tiny Rascals

Ten Percenters

Texas Syndicate

United Blood Nation (UBN)

Universal Aryan Brotherhood


Varrio Loco Town

Vice Lords

West Texas

Wet Back Power

White Supremacists





            After systematically collecting estimates of religious attendance among the inmates for Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews, the survey asked the respondent to provide narrative information which would specifically identify the three largest OTHER types of religious services being that are attracting inmates in their facilities. These results are summarized here.

            Table 8 provides the top five in this list of religious services outside of the mainstream. The most widespread religious attraction on this list is unquestionably the offering of Native American services, examples of this include: Native American Tribal Worship, Red Heart Warrior Society, Seven Fires, Sweat Lodge Indians, etc). Wiccan services was in the top three of all of options from a larger list of such religious services attracting inmates. The larger list of religious services attracting inmates, unranked, and in alphabetical order is provided in Table 9.

            Why additional types of what are apparently Muslim services are appearing in this larger list could perhaps be explained by the fact that there are many choices within the types of services being offered behind bars. For example, Baptists are also appearing in Table 9, although, obviously, they are Protestants as well.

             As seen in Table 9, Odinism and Rastafarian services technically are more popular than Prison Fellowship and Prison Ministry services.

            Table 9 also makes reference to an inmate run religious service that goes by serveral different names and is best known to Florida authorities: the Nation of Yahweh, aka “Yahweh Ben Yahweh” aka “Hulon Mitchell, Jr.”, aka “Black Hebrew Israelites”. It has a prominent presence on the internet (see:, founded recently in 1979 to liberate Black Americans from oppression and lead them to the promised land of Israel. Yahweh Ben Yahweh himself (the God figure of this cult) was convicted with 16 of his henchmen in 1990 and should be nearing the completion of his 18 year sentence for RICO conspiracy.

Table 8

The Top Five Alternative Religious Services Attracting American Inmates Today

(e.g., Other Than Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Judaic services)

1. Native American services (37 citations)

2. Jehovah’s Witness services (20 citations)

3. Wiccan services (16 citations)

4. Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) services (14 citations)

5. Buddhism services (9 citations)

Table 9

Names of the Largest Religious Services Attracting Inmates

(Other Than Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Judaic Services)

(Unranked and in Alphabetical Order)

Al Islam

Asatru (5 citations)

Assembly of God

Assembly of Yahweh

Baptist (5 citations)

Bible Study

British Israelites


Church of God

Christian “Nazerite”

Five Percenters (2 citations)

Gospel Express

Hebrew Israelite (2 citations)

Hindu services


Jehovah’s Witness (20 citations)

Kairos Prison Ministry (3 citations)

Laceo (2 citations)

Latter Day Saints (3 citations)

Legion of Mary (2 citations)

Methodist (2 citations)

Miracles Ministry

 MSTA (14 citations)

Muslims (7 citations)

Nation of Islam (8 citations)

Native American (Native American Tribal Worship, NATW) (37 citations)

Odinism (4 citations)



Prison Fellowship (2 citations)

Prison Ministries (2 citations)

Rastafarian (3 citations)

Sabbath Keepers (2 citations)

Satanic rites

Seventh Day Adventist (6 citations)

Victory Outreach Bible Society

Wiccan services (16 citations)

Yahweh Ben Yahweh


            The survey asked “what are the names of the top three religious services being run by prisoners in your facility. This narrative information was then used to identify trends in terms of the frequency of specific prisoner-led services nationwide. Tables 10 and 11 provide the results of this analysis. Table 10 delineates the top ten religious services in American corrections today which are services led by inmates. Table 11 provides an alphabetical listing of all of the categories used in the analysis.

            The first and most apparent finding is that there are differences within the Muslim or Islamic world behind bars. Obviously, basic Muslim religious services are the most widely type of religious service in American prisons which are run by inmates; and this category is different from and is analyzed separately, in terms of statistical codification, from: the Nation of Islam, “Islamic services”, Sunni Muslim services, and Jumah services — all of which appear in the top ten in Table 10, but all of which are Islamic religious services. And there are still more Islamic religious services in Table 11: Al Islam for example, or Muslim Koran Study as another example, both of which, while not in the top ten are different types of Islamic services run by inmates.


Table 10

The Top Ten Religious Services in American Prisons Being Run By Prisoners

1. Muslim Religious Services (36 citations)

2. Moorish Science Temple of America (25 citations)

3. Native American Services (18 Citations)

4. Nation of Islam (13 citations)

5. Asatru (8 citations)

6. Islamic services (8 citations)

7. Wicca (8 citations)

8. Judaism services (6 citations)

9. Sunni Muslim services (5 citations)

10. Jumah services (4 citations)

Table 11

The Top Religious Services in American Prisons Being Run By Prisoners

(Not ranked, in Alphabetical Order)

Al Islam (2 citations)

Asatru (8 citations)

Black Muslim

Catholic Bible Study (2 citations)

Christian (2 citations)

Five Percent Nation

Hebrew Israelite (2 citations)

Islamic (8 citations)

Jehovah’s Witness (3 citations)

Judaism (6 citations)

Jumah (4 citations)

Lutheran Bible Study

Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) (25 citations)

Muslim religious services (36 citations)

Muslim Koran Study

Nation of Islam (13 citations)

Native American services (18 citations)

No. 1 Muhammed Temple

Odinists (2 citations)

Pagan (2 citations)



Sunday Bible Study

Sunni Muslim (5 citations)

Wicca (8 citations)


            The survey asked the responding correctional institutions if Islamic inmates had a separate gang, and recall that 44.4 percent of the responding prisons indicated “yes”. A followup question asked them to provide narrative information in the form of the name of the Islamic gang(s). This information was content analyzed and the results are provided in Table 12.

            Table 12 provides a listing with frequency count of all Islamic prison gangs reported by the respondents.

            Street gangs like the Black P. Stone Nation (BPSN), aka “El Rukns”, illustrate examples of Islamic gangs that have decades of experience; today in Chicago, the BPSN are still a major gang crime problem, over 40 years after they were first started. The El Rukn’s gained notoriety when their leader Jeff Fort was convicted of conspiracy to commit terrorism, specifically contracting with Libya to shoot down American airplanes with shoulder-fired rockets inside the USA for a price. The El Rukn’s and BPSN are listed separately in Table 12, but are clearly identical in function. Prior to his conviction Jeff Fort and his colleagues had traveled directly to Libya to volunteer to become domestic terrorists, of course the BPSN expected funding for this activity, and so they were clearly gang mercenaries of a sort. Several profiles of the BPSN have been published by the NGCRC, one of which is available at the website:

            Table 12 provides more citations for Gangster Disciple involvement with Islamic influences than Vice Lords. Actually, from a historical view point, Gangster Disciples had a political platform that included speakers from Islamic traditions, but in their internal writings gave no indication of any influence from an Islamic doctrine. So what may be emerging in Table 12 are some unique localized or provincial variations of the Gangster Disciple gang, or perhaps some new twist on their identity. The Vice Lords are well known to have an Islamic theme in their internal writings, and these street gang members clearly identify with Islamic traditions such as no pork in the diet. For a very detailed analysis of the Vice Lords gang factions (there are several different factions), see the gang profile book by Knox and Papachristos (2002).

            Generally, the Gangster Disciples from Chicago are opportunistic and aligned against Islamic gangs like the BPSN and Vice Lords. So it is unusual to see them listed by prison officials as being an Islamic gang, but outside of the Chicago area and its original gang epicenter, well perhaps anything is possible. Certainly, most gang specialists are aware of tremendous changes during the last decade in the Gangster Disciple gang nationwide, particularly since the Chicago leadership was decimated by federal prosecution. This may indicate a tendency, outside of Illinois at least, where the Gangster Disciples as a large gang can take on new shapes and functions in order to survive over time. It will bear close watching over the next few years to see if this dabbling in Islamic religious doctrines shows up in its locally produced written constitutions and bylaws; these Gangster Disciple factions outside of the Chicago area will often simply invent new material, they improvise, maybe in some jurisdictions to hold a gang meeting they are willing to identify with the Islamic faith to do so.

            The Five Percenters are the single largest gang or STG that emerges from the tabulation of multiple citations – it has 27 citations alone. There are two gang profiles that describe the Five Percenters (Corbiscello, 2004: 183-194; Dodd and Pearson, 2004: 195-204).

            A true prison gang or STG that operated for many years as a religion, at least in Michigan, is the Melanic Islamic Palace of the Rising Sun. By this it is meant that the Melanics started their gang in prison. Then after a starting a particularly violent riot, they were classified as a security threat group (STG), the Melanics sued in federal court, but lost. They are now defunct by name, but have hundreds of hard core members looking for a new “cover” to hide behind. Thus, perhaps the one citation for “Melanic Nubian Islamic” is just that: a spinoff from the original Melanic prison gang. The Melanics are said to still exist in an “underground” capacity, holding their meetings in secrecy, and functioning more like a terrorist group or secret society, they are not trying to attract attention to their activity. This Melanic prison gang tried for years to become a street gang, but it was unsuccessful. It was, for many years, the single most powerful prison gang in Michigan. The Melanic gang profile is one of the most detailed gang threat analyses ever reported (see pp. 204-280 in Knox and Robinson, 2004), it presents a full natural history of the gang, its origin, its etiology, and its ultimate demise.


Table 12

The Islamic Prison Gangs Identified by and Which Operate In

Adult State Correctional Institutions

(In Alphabetical Order)

Ansar El Muhammed Muslims (3 citations)

Black Gangster Disciples (5 citations)

Black Guerilla Family

Black P. Stone Nation (2 citations)

Brothers of the Struggle - Melanics

El Rukns (3 citations)

Five Percent Nation (27 citations)

Fruits of Islam (FOI) )(6 citations)

Mandingo Warriors

Melanic Islamic Palace of the Rising Sun (5 citations)

Melanic Nubian Islamic

Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) (6 citations)

Nation of Islam (NOI) (18 citations)

Radical Muslim (2 citations)

Salifi (4 citations)

Sunni Muslims

United Blood Nation (2 citations)

Vice Lords


            The survey asked “hypothetically, if you could do anything you wanted to make your facility SAFER , what would you do about the gang/STG problem”. The narrative remarks were transcribed, classified, and organized into topical areas and it is now possible to summarize the major findings from this content analysis. The findings fell into six major areas, each of which will be discussed: increased sanctions, housing for gang/STG inmates, new restrictions, new services, new policies, and increased staffing/resources.

            1. Increased Sanctions

            New and increased sanctions against gang/STG members were presumed to work on the logic that an increase in the level of punishment will bring the desired decrease in the gang/STG problem. The state legislature can help by creating new laws that stiffen the sanctions for certain types of crimes behind bars: such as gang recruiting, selling drugs behind bars, and possession or use of improvised weapons behind bars. The idea is that if inmates are charged with possession of weapons and press charges and prosecute gang related incidents as serious crime, then gang/STG inmates will eventually get the message. Having enhanced penalties for gang/STG offenses that occur behind bars (protection racket, extortion, gang recruitment, gang intimidation, gang fighting, gang rioting, etc) would increase the cost side of the gang/STG equation. More than one respondent seemed exuberant about the idea of being able to “throw the book” at gang/STG leaders using “street charges”, not just the “disciplinary write ups” they often get. As one respondent put it somewhat differently, but along the same lines, “prosecute them under the RICO law” — i.e., really throw the judicial book at them.

            In a state like Illinois, however, there are many forces working against such a theory. First, in Illinois, the state law provides that prosecution for any crime that occurs in a facility operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections shall be paid for not by the county in which the correctional facility is located, but shall be paid for by the budget of the Illinois Department of Corrections itself. County governments want the economic stimulus that correctional facilities bring and the good employment opportunities that correctional facilities provide local citizens, but these same local county governments do not want the trouble of footing the bill for the prosecution of what occurs behind the walls of said facilities. The way this law has worked in Illinois for decades is this: if it is a murder, it gets prosecuted; if it is an assault against a correctional officer it may get prosecuted or it may not, it may depend on what the prosecution budget can or cannot support, but almost never will an inmate against another inmate assault be prosecuted.

            Illinois is typical in many respects of one national trend here that should be reversed somehow: there is a lot of crime that occurs in state prisons that just never shows up in the national crime picture — i.e., what is reported in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Many crimes discovered behind bars, many of which are very serious, are handled by something other than actual official prosecution. In some states the cost or decision to prosecute falls back to the Office of the Attorney General, and while no one may admit it, one of the realistic things to consider in a prosecute or do not prosecute decision is going to be the funding available to carry out the prosecution.

            Revoking privileges for longer periods of time for gang/STG problems was also an option some respondents would like to make their facilities safer. This would apply for example in some states where inmates can earn good time (days off their sentence). The idea here was to be able to take away good time on all gang/STG violations. Thus, inmates would lose good time if they continued to be a gang/STG problem or created gang/STG problems or violated gang/STG rules and regulations already in place.

            Some of the existing privileges that some respondents would like to be able to take away in cases of gang/STG problems included: eliminating contact visits for all STG members and restrict yard and activity times for STG members. The idea here, specifically, is to operate the facility military style; a related idea will be discussed under the rubric of new restrictions.

            Transferring or shipping out known gang/STG members to higher security institutions, particularly the idea of “diesel therapy” (on routine basis transfer STG inmates so they could not get settled in), so that leaders are moved to a higher security level — this idea enjoys much support for one reason — it shifts the problem to someone else and spreads the virus.

            2. Housing for Gang/STG Inmates.

            There was wide support for some of these ideas that include the segregation and isolation in one area of hard core members and the leaders of gangs/STGs. The idea is to keep this kind of prisoner in a restricted housing unit 23 hours a day 7 days a week, perhaps to use administrative segregation more, to lock them down more, anything to isolate them from the general population. The reason to isolate them from the general population is because there is a growing recognition that this kind of prisoner “contaminates” other prisoners. Thus, there is a need to isolate them from the yard for a long period of time. A common view here is to also separate the leaders from the members of the gang/STG. The idea of having separate facilities that would hold only gang/STG inmates enjoys a good deal of support among the respondents in this study. In their ideal world, the respondents would have them in single cell confinement 23 hours of the day, 45 minutes for recreation and 15 minutes for a shower. Having them in single cells limits their contact with the general population and segregates them from the general population. And, of course, the option would exist even here to suspend TV, canteen and visiting privileges.

            There is a growing degree of support for segregating gang/STG’s by their affiliation, so they would be segregated not just from the general population but from their gang rivals as well. There may even be separate facilities for the gang/STG leaders in the ideal model.

            3. New Restrictions.

            The idea of new restrictions would vary from one facility to the next, but it would mean evaluating whatever exists as a local “benefit” or “reward” and having a mechanism to take that reward away if the inmate participates in gang/STG activity. One respondent was adamant about just eliminating copy machine privileges, the idea here is that gang inmates are constantly spreading their “propaganda”, and they have even been known to produce their own newspapers, so that the copy machine, if the inmates have access to it, is really a weapon the inmates can use. One respondent wanted the power to stop food boxes from family and friends, again one of the “rewards” that can be taken away if it exists at a local facility. One respondent wanted to stop ex-inmates from returning to the same facility to visit other gang members: it is probably a visit to conduct gang business, and the respondent would like to have that option of restricting this privilege from gang/STG inmates.

            And the most widely supported idea was to have a Uniform Dress Code: no exceptions, as in the federal system. Thus, inmates would not be able to have special colors, no caps with their symbols, no religious symbols, no gang apparel, no personal clothing at all would be allowed in this model — state issue clothing only.

            Stopping inmate to inmate mail is another idea that was reported here by several respondents. Unfortunately, in some states case law has over the years afforded inmates the de jure right to correspond with other inmates. An example of this was the watershed prison law case of Guajuardo v. Estelle in Texas. The decision forced what is today the Texas adult state prison system to allow inmates to correspond with each other. One immediate result of this was: every time the prison system would transfer an informant, inmates at his new facility would quickly ascertain his “snitch” identity, because inmates can write to each other in Texas. Today, of course, it allows gangs to communicate from one correctional institution to another throughout the State of Texas. Today, obviously in Texas and elsewhere, because of a policy that allows inmate to inmate correspondence, prison gangs can literally “reach out and touch” or threaten someone anywhere.

            4. New Services.

            The idea here was to provide new and useful services to the prisoners or inmates. In other words, some respondents recommended indeterminate Special Housing Unit (SHU) for validated gang members, still others suggested that once gang members are identified we need to meet with them. The most popular idea here was to develop a special program for inmates that would encourage them to quit the gang/STG. One mentioned the option to de-program gang members. Perhaps recalling an item in the present survey, one wanted to have a tattoo or gang identifier removal program for inmates that completed the “gang de-programming program”. As one respondent described the idea, the program would offer gang counseling individually and in groups by trained gang specialists.

            5. New Policies.

            New or improved policies and procedures regarding gang/STG issues was a separate area in which respondents felt they could make their facilities safer from the threat of gangs/STGs. Simplifying the validation process was the most frequent issue under new policies or having more effective policies. Respondents want an easier validation process and a better gang identification program; they want to be able to identify all potential gang members upon intake into the correctional system. Some respondents are reporting that their facilities obviously have policies that are too complex with regard to the identification and classification of STG inmates. This may be the issue of “the STG validation process”. They want stricter controls on documented gang members. They want to increase mail and phone intercepts. They want mandatory frequent facility shake downs. They want to be able to transfer gang trouble makers out of the facility. And they want periodic visits by local city or county law enforcement to visit with staff to discuss local gang issues.

            The “STG validation process” in California ignores most gang members, even if they have a gang tattoo on their forehead, they are not automatically a “validated gang/STG member”. This accounts for the discrepancy in terms of what the percentage of gang members is in the California prison inmate population: some previous published reports had put this at a ridiculously low rate, so artificially low as to be totally unbelievable. But the way it could be done is by having a “STG validation process” that assumes all gang members coming into the facility will “be nice” when you tell them, if you continue to gang bang behind bars the corrections system has a “STG validation process” that will label you a continuing gang menace to society. So the term “validated gang/STG member” in some states is meaningless from an objective threat point of view. It can be a complicated process to get an inmate classified as a “validated gang/STG member”. Remember that a third of the facilities responding to this survey do not have classification systems that take gang membership into account. Obviously, that needs to change: gang membership is a very significant factor for inmate classification.

            6. Increased Staffing/Resources.

            The final area of narrative remarks focused on making facilities safer with regard to gangs/STGs dealt with increased staffing or increased resources. By far the single largest need expressed here is the need for more staff training specifically on gang/STG issues: training staff to become more adept at identifying gang members, to know what to look for (symbols, gang behavior, etc), and to make staff more aware of the problem. One respondent noted “the training should be yearly and not on the computer, the central office should look at this harder and not brush it under the carpet” — apparently some cheaper forms of “gang training” amount to little more than media presentations on the computer.

            The next major need area was to have more staff to monitor and investigate gang/STG issues; and the most frequent need was that the institution employ a full time STG coordinator — apparently in many facilities it is a part-time role for a full-time problem. They want full time STG intelligence officers , permanently assigned to monitor and investigate gang/STG problems.

Thus, they want more intelligence investigation resources and more enforcement services, and this means personnel assigned to these positions to develop and use better intelligence.


            The survey included the open-ended item “what is the most innovative way you have ever heard of for controlling gang activity in prison?”. This narrative information was subjected to content analysis. The results of this analysis are presented here, ending the presentation of such narrative data findings, and allowing the report to move to higher levels of analysis.

            Basically, there was not much in this data that was truly new or innovative. Regardless, it was found that the responses were categorized by one of the following major areas: housing (segregation, etc), Security/Privileges, Intelligence/Information Systems, the need for an STG/Gang Task Force and staff training, and new programs/services for inmates.

            1. Housing (segregation, etc).

            Housing issues were by far the single largest theme for innovative ways the respondents had heard of for dealing with gangs in prisons. Most of these are not, however, by any sense of the imagination new or innovative. These ideas actually go back many years. Let us examine a few of them.

            The most persistent glimmer of an innovative idea is that gang leaders certainly and in most cases gang members as well, should be isolated and segregated from the general population of non-gang member inmates. The goal is to contain them so that they do not “spread” the virus of the STG within the larger prison population. A common theme is to have separate facilities or housing units for gang/STG members. Thus, for convenience and for economy of scale, the gang/STG inmates could be held in one or a few facilities. One wonders, however, what “gang density” rate this would work for: if the national norm is 1/4 of all inmates are gang members, obviously there are places like Illinois, California, New York and Texas where the actual gang density rate is suspected of being considerably higher than this. It is useful to recall that at one time in the late 1980's the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) estimated that 80 to 90 percent of his inmates were gang members (Lane, 1989). The message here should be abundantly clear: if your gang density rate is that high, you do not have the luxury of even dreaming about separate facilities or transfers — your entire system is gang-ridden.

            Thus, the idea of “separating” gang/STG members from the rest of the inmate population, is a naive idea for jurisdictions where the normal gang density rate is such that most prisoners are gang/STG members - - - some of whom are simply more active than others - - - and quite literally there is no practical way to achieve this. The non-gang/STG inmates are called “neutrons”, they are among the unaligned. All gang members and associates (those who seek the protection of a gang for example) are obviously aligned somewhere in one of the national gang alliance systems.

            One “separation” strategy based on race from the California prison system is currently being analyzed by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is the case of Johnson vs. California, where Black inmate Johnson has sued the California Department of Corrections (CDC) because CDC intentionally segregates new inmates by race during their period of “reception and classification” (2 or 3 months). CDC historically segregates inmates segregated by their race during the peior of reception and classification in order to see if the inmate is going to be a “racial extremist”. Thus, CDC allows Black inmates to associate only with other Black inmates, white inmates being able to associate with only white inmates, and presumably down the chain with Hispanic/Hispanic, Asian/Asian, inducing a racial segregation policy by state design.

            In most jurisdictions in America, the criminal justice system generally knows whether the offender is a gang member long before arriving in prison. A pre-sentence investigation (PSI) report usually has information about the gang membership of the offender. Most local and state police data systems also are able to establish whether someone is a gang member. Most prosecutors know if the offender is or is not a gang member. Certainly the arresting police officers often know if the offender is or is not a gang member. A lot of gang members have tattoos that are rather easy to evaluate for gang affiliation. CDC argues that racially segregating newly arriving inmates allows CDC to evaluate them for gang membership, STG involvement, etc. A court decision is expected shortly about the issue of racial segregation in CDC.

            If a state corrections system is lucky enough to have an objectively low gang density rate, then in theory if they do adopt one of the “innovative” ideas — diesel treatment or displacing members to different facilities — then the same state can inadvertently nourish and fertilize the gang/STG problem. It can grow when by shipping a gang leader to a new facility, the gang leader immediately begins to proselytize to other inmates, and a “contagion effect” occurs. The gang spreads inside the prison system when the same gang is able to attract new members by either cultivating and recruiting new members or by accepting new “walk-ins” or volunteers. Obviously, this does occur in prison and in any correctional environment (juvenile centers, jails, etc). Diesel treatment or diesel therapy is the expression that comes from sending the inmates on frequent transfers using the prison bus (the exhaust fumes from diesel gas being the therapy). When a prison system has a high gang density, this is only an option that could have a counter-productive effect: the gang member on such “therapy” has ample opportunity to spread the gang ideology statewide.

            Another variety of “bus therapy” is have gang leaders or gang/STG trouble-makers relocated to far away correctional institutions, far from their home, making it very difficult for them to ever receive visitors. Arizona Department of Corrections received some positive press coverage for doing this in 1999 (Martinez, 1999). The problem was it was not new in 1999, it may have been new to Arizona or it may have sounded new to the newspaper reporter, but it was not by any sense of the imagination new. It is still in use today in a number of states that have sufficient geographical dispersion of institutional facilities, and it is also possible to send such recalcitrant inmates out of state using the Interstate Compact law (formally known as the 1934 Crime Control Consent Act).

            But, the idea of identifying gang members and then either separating them or pooling them is still attractive in American corrections today, even though there is a dynamic tension in terms of which is best with regard to the issue of their specific gang affiliation: using the “set-off” technique (balance the number of rival gang members living in the same unit: e.g., Unit A would hold 50 inmates, you put 20 Crips and 20 Bloods, and maybe 10 neutrons in, and they “balance” each other, a kind of parity is established in terms of density, no one gang tends to dominate), or turning entire units over to a specific gang affiliation or the “congregate gang system” (e.g., in this hypothetical scenario Units A & B become “folks” or Crips housing units, Unit C would be only for a large white gang, and Unit D would be for “peoples” or Bloods). The obvious issue is that with the “set-off” technique there is a potential liability or downside in terms of the natural propensity for gangs to fight: would this method of gang control, while making some work theoretically safer, also at the same time make it more dangerous for the inmates in that unit? And then there is the issue of what objectively happens when all the members of one gang are identified and all of them are placed in one housing unit: is there not the possibility that this will strengthen and solidify the internal organization of the gang? Does this policy artificially keep the gang together as a gang?

            Having all gang members in specific housing units where they stayed with and played with, perhaps worked with, ate and slept with, only the members of their own specific gang, is the homogeneous or congregate strategy. Texas is said to use this technique for the control of gangs/STGs in its state prison system, Connecticut as well where in theory there is an effort to get the inmates out of gang life. The segregation of gang members in the congregate strategy means to segregate the gang members so that the inmates are only with their own gangs, which cuts down on gang against gang fighting. There is something appealing about the short-term value of this strategy, because if the heterogeneous strategy is used which involves “mixing them up”, requiring them to “get along” is after all an especially difficult rule for them to comply with: they are mortal enemies, some are in the prison for killing their rivals.

            An gang informant interviewed took the position that “mixing them up” is the best policy because it forces the gang members to get along:

            Mixing them up is the best thing, if you separate them by gang name, you create a situation where you have one building against another building. So if they ever meet up for any reason during their incarceration, you know there is going to be conflict. If you force them to live together, then they are forced to deal with each other on a daily basis, so they are going to come to some type of compromise sooner or later”.

            The idea of having all gang/STG members in one housing unit where staff are specifically trained to deal with and handle them is, never the less, an attractive idea. Perhaps the key ingredient here is the implied training it would take to achieve the staffing potential. A somewhat less costly idea is simply to declare a prison to be a “gang free” prison: only inmates who renounce gang life or who are not operating as gang/STG members are allowed into the prison. Connecticut and Illinois have such “gang free” prisons. How they actually operate, however, has escaped significant research attention; so the literature is less than abundant which informs us about the level of success of these endeavors — does the gang warfare move from overt campaigns to covert maneuvers? Do new types of gang alliances get started? There are many such unanswered questions when it comes to studying gang violence behind bars.

            Obviously, what seems simple here, by a larger standard is very complex in terms of what could actually happen by seeking to achieve parity (heterogeneity with regard to gang affiliation) or achieve homogeneity (all one gang type). Absolutely no evaluation research exists that allows us to evaluate which, if any, of these two options actually works or which works best if there is in fact any difference.

            The idea of assignment to housing unit by type of gang affiliation and having their gang identifiers removed is a pipe dream, it is not likely to happen: an inmate’s body is typically his legal “artistic canvass”, and at least in terms of up to this point in U.S. history, it is not likely that U.S. courts would allow prison wardens to forcibly “remove” symbols or expressions that threaten the peace (e.g., are gang symbols). These gang tattoos cannot be forcibly removed. Even if inmates wanted them removed, the statistical evidence from this survey for the first time establishes that less than one percent of American prisons have this “capability”, this was a finding from the quantitative phase of the research results reported here. Thus, the safest trend for the overall security of the prison seems to be the “set-off” technique: while it may result in more fights, no one gang ever controls anything for very long.

            The downside of putting each gang in its own cell block with no contact with anyone else is a version of separation, but it becomes a kind of system that allows the gang as a social organizational unit to prosper. And that is dangerous from a long-term view of the gang/STG problem. If gangs go to prison and become more knowledgeable and more stronger, then recognizing that most inmates eventually get out (96% is one estimate) of prison, therefore would the prison system itself be at some point “exporting” a more virulent strain of the gang problem back upon American streets and back into American communities?

            Certainly the option to have leaders or members on “lock down” or some form of administrative segregation is also going to be a practical necessity for those gang/STG members who continue to “gang bang” behind bars.

            2. Security/Privileges.

            The idea of having more severe restrictions placed upon gang/STG members or being able to remove/withdraw/suspend their privileges is a practical necessity for a modern prison discipline system. Thus, one idea that is popular in this arena is to use a “level management” system, which would involve a restriction of privileges, and there is always the threat of more severe punishments, but that based upon good conduct (e.g., the cessation of gang/STG behavior), the inmate can move up a notch to a higher set of privileges. The idea is to have behavior based privileges.

            The idea of at least isolating gang/STG inmates from yard or recreational privileges is a popular one, because these are the contexts in which gangs/STGs create the most havoc. There is a genuine need to enhance rule violations that involve gang/STG activity. Many prison experts would also like to stop gang mail and abolish “gang colors” behind bars. The idea of having good shakedowns to routinely enforce security concerns is also a necessity wherever gang or STG inmates reside.

            3. Intelligence/Information Systems.

            The top of the “wish list” for adult state prisons in terms of dealing with gangs, would probably be this issue of improving their intelligence/information systems. The idea is to track and monitor the gang/STG problem and make the information available to a wide variety of key personnel. There is something intrinsically attractive about the assumption here: knowledge is power, thus increasing knowledge of gang operations creates the opportunity to prevent problems related to gang/STG conflicts. The constant monitoring of gang/STG inmates would mean watching who they talk and when, monitoring their tattoos, and perhaps in strategic or tactical ways letting the inmates know that the corrections system knows what they are up to. At the extreme, this would include making information and photos of gang members available to their family members; the theory being that the department could bring shame upon the inmate by sharing this behavior information with his/her biological family members. From NGCRC research along these lines, few of their parents would hear anything new if this were done. But before anything can be done, there must be a “gang unit” or an “STG intelligence unit”, there must be an organizational infrastructure that creates the system of information collection, analysis and dissemination. The Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) maintained by the Bureau of Justice Assistance is one potential mechanism that could be used to satisfy the need for intelligence and information sharing for state correctional institutions.

            4. The Need for a Gang/STG Task Force.

            Directly tied to the issue of having an improved intelligence or management information system is “how” and “who” will collect the information, and this goes to the belief that one way to improve the capability of correctional institutions to respond to the gang/STG problem is to organize local gang/STG task force groups. The gang task force would be given the responsibility to conduct initial interviews of incoming inmates and track those who are gang members or who have had previous STG involvement of any kind. By establishing a gang or STG task force, this creates training opportunities for internal training and for greater involvement of line staff in a voluntary capacity: offer the training to all who want it, and recruit within this cadre of trained personnel for qualified persons to carry out the mission and mandates of the local gang/STG task force. Getting outside involvement is key to a successful local task force. This outside involvement should therefore consider invitations and special guest presentations from all jurisdictional levels with outside law enforcement agencies (local municipal police departments in the state, county law enforcement agencies, state law enforcement, and federal law enforcement agencies). Bringing in prosecutors and judges, probation and parole officers, and other gang specialists (researchers, analysts, etc) can therefore only “enrich” and provide vitality to the task force. Most importantly, some level of administrative support and resource allocation is vital to the creation and sustenance of these task force groups

            Someone you also probably want on your local gang task force is an attorney who is knowledgeable about prisoner’s rights. It is too easy for what sounds like a good idea from a Task Force group to be implemented only to find that it might be unconstitutional for sure, and possibly illegal. Consider the fact that two respondents to the survey cited the “innovative” idea of holding gang leaders accountable for the negative behavior of their subordinates, that is making one gang leader inmate liable for the behavior of another inmate in his gang organization. Sounds good, might even have an impact on the leader. But is it is really legal, or even a good idea at all? It is unlikely that it is legal, because if it were that would be the ideal law to have in every state and in every city and municipality in America: there would always be someone to go after every time anything from graffiti to drive-by homicides occurred. There seem to be a great many issues of “due process” that would have to be dealt with, but then again we cannot offer legal advice here, we are simply recommending the value of having good legal advice in a Task Force. It would be a good way to avoid serious problems. At a minimum, perhaps having someone from the state Attorney General’s office would be a good idea.

            5. Staff Training.

            To a large extent, the gang/STG task force is a vehicle for the “needs assessment” of what kinds of training are needed and which staff in the organization need the training. So, some of these ideas piggy back on each other, and there is therefore an mutual dependency for overall effectiveness (e.g., being strong in one area and weak in another might negate the effectiveness). Staff members are the “chain” that keeps the organization secure, and thus the weakest link in the chain is the least skilled staff member. Imparting knowledge and skills to staff is therefore vital and necessary in any formal organization. Generally, the believe is that there should be intensive pre-service and ongoing in-service training on gang/STG issues for all staff members. At the very minimum, there is the basic need for identification skills, recognizing gang signs, understanding gang language and tattoos. But well above these basic and elementary skills are a host of skills such as interviewing and information verification that are vital to operating a safe and secure facility that has gang/STG members in it.

            Thus, security personnel are going to need more ongoing training than someone who works in an administrative office, but anyone who works directly with inmates is going to need ongoing gang/STG training. Gangs create new alliances, they create new mechanisms of threat, they create new methods of communication, etc, such that there are always new developments that impact on the correctional institution. It is one thing to declare, as all American correctional institutions should, that they have a zero tolerance for gang/STG activity; it is another thing entirely for staff to be able to effectively recognize that activity when it takes so many covert and overt forms.

            6. New Programs/Services for Inmates.

            Lastly, the category of what is said to be an innovative way to control gang activity in prison is linked to creating new programs or services for inmates. To a large extent, the opinions expressed here center around the hope that professional therapy might actually work — but currently there is no guarantee any of this works. The biggest demand is for a program that would have inmates denounce or renounce their gang life, with this kind of program then other rehabilitative efforts will be successful to ultimately reduce the “threat level” of the inmate and help him/her to be reintegrated back into society. Having a renunciation program basically means providing inmates a method of disassociating from gang life. Of course, this pie in the sky way of over-simplifying the gang/STG problem, overlooks certain types of more solidified or more highly organized gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood ---- kill to get in, die to get out. There are severe, even “Death V’s” (death violations are violations of gang rules that may carry the death sentence from their own gang) for trying to leave some gangs. So, to a large extent, when considering certain types of gangs, and the inmates are acting like they have renounced the gang, they are just “walking the walk, and talking the talk” to appear to be compliant to a system that will reward them for this behavior. But it may not be in any sense of the word a permanent or genuine “result”: these inmates may not permanently drop their flag, but with the gang’s permission, they may act like it so that they better serve their gang. It is a cat and mouse game in many respects.

            Similarly, some suggested that if a correctional agency is going to have a “renunciation program” then one level of measuring the effectiveness of the program would be indicated by the number of inmates willing to have their proudly worn gang tattoos removed. Offer them a tattoo removal service, help them start a new beginning somewhere, let them get good job training or education that will restore their pride — these are traditional aims of rehabilitation, but rehabilitation is not a major goal of adult correctional systems in most states.

            Still, even if there was limited “special housing”, it might want to be reserved for those entering such a “gang renunciation program”. In some states this would also mean that the gang members would have to “debrief”, that is “give up the goods” on their gang friends. This latter issue of “ratting” is an effective litmus test for how serious the gang/STG member is about getting better treatment. In those limited contexts in American corrections where this is being done, the ultimate test of whether the inmate is now out of his gang is whether he is willing to testify in court against his gang member colleagues. This is also why it is worthwhile to have a special facility for housing informants, because if they become known, they are looking at a “death sentence” from their own gang.

            Skepticism forces us to issue one very important advisory here: there has been no research, particularly no evaluation research, on any efforts formal or informal in nature, real programs or imaginary programs, staffed programs with a budget and with formal goals and personnel, or unstaffed unbudgeted “imaginary” programs” ---- none of these “gang denunciation programs” have ever yielded reliable valid information about their ability to objectively achieve what they purport to achieve. In case it is not clear, evaluation research is vital and necessary for any program to achieve respectability or to ever have any semblance of integrity: what evaluation research does (when it is carried out not just by those inside the program, but by outsiders who have no direct tie to the program) is provide quantitative and other evidence about the level of effectiveness if any in the degree to which the program can deliver what it says it can deliver and in terms of outcomes whether any of these services has any impact in the desired direction. So, technically, a program without evaluation research is an unproven program, an untested program. Thus, it may very well be a myth that hard core gang members who end up as imprisoned inmates can be so easily de-programmed from their lifelong commitment to gangs. It may be nothing more than a convenient fiction: something that looks good, sounds good, but which upon closer examination is not exactly achieving what it purports to achieve.

            Bus therapy and diesel therapy aside, which are not intended to be therapeutic nor were they designed by the helping professions, the present author is aware of no therapy program anywhere in the world that is effective when it is coercive or forcible, i.e. something other than purely voluntary, where the person in need of therapy seeks out said therapy. Obviously, there is a need to build upon the individual decision-making of the inmates that hopefully would be given more opportunities in a non-gang direction than a gang-support direction. Perhaps integrating some dosage of “cultural sensitivity training” for the inmates who score high on racial intolerance would also be a good idea. There are reasonable social-scientific methods to tackle the program, but it is not known, it is not reported in the literature, how any such “gang denunciation program” actually works or if it is effective — it is more of a popularized belief that it can be done, or that someone is doing it somewhere very effectively, when in fact, it may be the ultimate challenge to “rehabilitation”. The intent here is not to discourage this kind of experimentation, but rather it may be worthwhile to link the “helping community”: therapists, psychologists, social service administrators, drug and substance abuse counselors, those in practice and those in universities, students and functional professionals alike, especially faith-based initiatives — bringing this kind of “Intervention and Prevention Task Force” together.


            The Chi-square test statistic will be used in bivariate analysis that follows here. This is where the analysis allows the examining the effects of one variable upon another variable. This allows us to truly look at a “correctional system”, in this case about 200 correctional facilities, where we have measurements that allow us to look at what is going on in terms of how one variable may impact upon another variable: e.g., how one factor like “whether white inmates have a separate gang” is something that increases or decreases prison violence. It can be said that it significantly increases or decreases in relationship to another variable when a probability test statistic is used.

            The Chi-square test statistic is useful for survey data such as that analyzed here. The Chi-square test statistic provides a Chi-square value, and the lower this value the less of a relationship exists between the two variables, and the higher this value there appears to be a relationship between the two variables. The Chi-square test statistic is actually a measure of statistical independence: is one factor independent of another, or is there some relationship between the two? A Chi-square test statistic (e.g., Chi-square = 21.3) is said to be statistically significant when it has a probability level of less than or equal to .05; that is, less than one chance in twenty would this result occur by chance alone. This short introduction to the Chi-square test is intended for those readers not familiar with statistical analysis.


            If gangs were under control behind bars, then they would not have the opportunity to fight and would not want to fight knowing the consequences, and certainly would not want to be manufacturing improvised weapons. But in most places gangs are not under full control behind bars, and gangs naturally bring their street conflict into the prison with them: the battle over turf or drug territory on American streets now exists in the corridors of American prisons. It is useful, therefore, to analyze those factors having an impact on gang-related weapons production behind bars, because this factor is the step before violence: they are producing and acquiring improvised weapons, to threaten violence or to carry out violence.

            Here it is possible to examine those factors found to be statistically important in relationship to whether gangs/STGs have tended to result in more improvised weapons production (e.g., shanks, etc) among inmates in the prisons surveyed in this research. Table 13 presents the findings for those factors which significantly differentiate weapon problems behind bars.

            As seen in Table 13, when white inmates have a separate gang this is a factor significantly differentiating those institutions that do or do not report a weapons production problem behind bars. In the institutions where white inmates do not have a separate gang, only 23.4 percent of these facilities indicated “yes” that they have a problem with weapons production. Yet, in those institutions where white inmates do in fact have a separate gang it is shown that 62.9 percent of these facilities are having problems with weapons production. Having a separate gang for white inmates is a factor of risk for weapons production.

            All three of the prison ministry literature factors are shown in Table 13 to be factors of risk for weapons production problems. A facility that reports receiving this material, is more likely to also have weapons production problems. This would be consistent with the theory that if this material spreads racial bigotry or intolerance, that weapons production would in theory also increase in the same facilities. The strongest of these three factors, though, is the influence from the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC); as this report found almost a two-fold increase in the rate of weapons production associated with facilities exposed their literature. It is possible to clarify what Table 13 says in this regard: among those correctional facilities that have not had prison ministry literature circulated among the inmates from the WCOTC only about a third of these facilities (34%) reported a problem in weapons production, but the rate of reporting a weapons production problem doubles to 70% for those facilities receiving WCOTC literature.

            The problem of weapons production rises from 43.9 percent where gangs or gang leaders are not able to influence politicians to 68.6 percent were gangs do have such influence — perhaps a latent measure of political corruption, consistent with the theory, of course, that where political corruption is also found as a nourishing factor for gangs.

            Of particular importance, given a host of such related variables, is that Table 13 tells us where a facility reports that gangs have attempted to use religious services as a front for a STG or gang, that this more than triples the weapons production problem (65.6%) compared to those correctional facilities where inmates have not attempted to use religious services as a front for an STG or gang (21.1%).

            It is not known for sure what contexts or what situations it may occur in, but it may be in the phase of information gathering about the imminent threat of gang riots where perhaps, it is not known for sure here, it may very well be that in order to keep the peace, perhaps sometimes it is necessary to negotiate with gang members. The theory that negotiating with gang members is bad news can be directly tested here. Table 13 shows that our highest rate of the weapons production problem (91.6%) occurs where staff do say they sometimes find it necessary to negotiate with gang members; compared to 46.1 percent where staff do not negotiate with gang members. This factor of negotiating with gang members is a variable that significantly differentiates weapons production behind bars.

            Table 13 also shows that where there are assaults or threats on staff members that these are two factors that are also going to be associated with higher levels of weapons production.

            It is actually difficult to imagine, given the potential legal liability here, of a state correctional institution where their inmate classification system did not take gang membership into account. But obviously, such facilities do exist. The problem is that by examining Table 13 it is now possible to find evidence that those facilities that “ignore gang membership” in their classification systems are the same ones with the higher rates of weapons production. That is to say, among those facilities where their institutional classification system does not take gang membership into account some 63.1 percent of these also reported a problem with weapons production, compared to 45.2 percent where gang membership was taken into account. Perhaps the lesson here is that ignoring one problem will only exacerbate another related problem.

            Overcrowding is shown in Table 13 to be a factor that significantly differentiates weapons production behind bars: this is consistent with much previous research, at least by the NGCRC, which has found that overcrowding is a factor associated with all types of conflict behind bars.

            The factor of knowing whether Islamic inmates have a separate gang is shown in Table 13 to be a factor that significantly differentiates weapons production in prisons today. Where gang members are also filing more lawsuits than non-gang members is also a factor that significantly differentiates weapons production behind bars.

            Two additional “religion” variables are shown in Table 13 to be factors that significantly differentiate weapons production behind bars. The first of these is knowing whether gang members have tried to control any religious program choices: where this happens in a facility, it basically doubles the rate of weapons production. The second factor is knowing whether a gang or STG has tried to use religious meetings as a way of simply holding a “gang meeting”: where this happens in a facility, it basically triples the rate of weapons production.

            Finally, Table 13 suggests that to the extent that strategic planning can move towards having more community-based facilities, this would be a good move according to the findings here: as a higher rate of weapons production is associated with those institutions that are not community-based.


Table 13

Factors Significantly Differentiating Illegal Weapons Production

by Gangs in American Correctional Institutions Today

                                    Have Gangs/STGs Resulted in More Improvised Weapons

                                    Production (e.g., Shanks, etc) Among Inmates in Your Facility?

                                                            NO                              YES                % Yes

Do white inmates have

a separate gang?         NO                  36                                11                    23.4%

                                    YES                46                                78                    62.9%

                                                            Chi - square = 21.3, p < .001

Has your facility received any

Prison Ministry Literature from

the Kingdom Identity Ministries

(Christian Identity)?   NO                  65                                50                    43.4%

                                    YES                16                                32                    66.6% 

                                                            Chi - square = 7.28, p = .007

Has your facility received any

Prison Ministry Literature from

the Church of Jesus Christ

Christian (Christian Identity)?

                                    NO                  61                                45                    42.4%

                                    YES                22                                41                    65.0%

                                                            Chi - square = 8.09, p = .004

Has your facility received any

Prison Ministry Literature from

the World Church of the

Creator or Creativity

(WCOTC)?                 NO                  58                                30                    34.0%

                                    YES                24                                56                    70.0%

                                                            Chi - square = 21.6, p < .001

Do you feel that gangs or

gang leaders are able to

influence politicians in

your state?                  NO                  69                                54                    43.9%


                                    YES                16                                35                    68.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 8.82, p = .003

Have inmates attempted to use

religious services as a front

for a Security Threat Group

or gang?                      NO                  41                                11                    21.1%

                                    YES                43                                82                    65.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 29.0, p < .001

Do staff in your facility sometimes

find it necessary to negotiate with

gang members in order to

keep the peace?          NO                  83                                71                    46.1%

                                    YES                 2                                 22                    91.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 17.2, p < .001

Have gang members been a problem

in terms of assaults on your staff?

                                    NO                  77                                62                    44.6%

                                    YES                 7                                 31                    81.5%

                                                            Chi - square = 16.3, p < .001

Have gang members been a problem

in terms of threats on staff?

                                    NO                  67                                46                    40.7%

                                    YES                16                                46                    74.1%

                                                            Chi - square = 18.0, p < .001

Does your institutional classification

system take gang membership

into account?              NO                  21                                36                    63.1%

                                    YES                63                                52                    45.2%

                                                            Chi - square = 4.90, p = .027

Generally, is overcrowding a

problem in your facility?

                                    NO                  57                                42                    42.4%

                                    YES                28                                51                    64.5%

                                                            Chi - square = 8.62, p = .003

Do Islamic inmates have

a separate gang?         NO                  56                                39                    41.0%

                                    YES                23                                51                    68.9%

                                                            Chi - square = 12.9, p < .001

Do gang members generally tend

to file more law suits against your

institution than non-gang inmates?

                                    NO                  78                                74                    48.6%

                                    YES                 5                                 17                    77.2%

                                                            Chi - square = 6.29, p = .012

Have gang members tried to control

any religious program choices

at your facility?          NO                  64                                37                    36.6%

                                    YES                20                                53                    72.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 21.9, p < .001

Has a gang or STG in your facility

tried to use religious meetings as a

way of simply holding a

“gang meeting”?         NO                  52                                14                    21.2%

                                    YES                32                                80                    71.4%

                                                            Chi - square = 42.0, p < .001

Is your facility community

based?                         NO                  35                                59                    62.7%

                                    YES                45                                31                    40.7% 

                                                            Chi - square = 8.14, p = .004


            Table 14 summarizes the main findings for the analysis which sought to answer the question: what are the main factors which are significantly differentiating American prisons in terms of whether they do or do not have gang riots? The actual variable meant that the prison had a gang riot during the last one year time period, which makes is a somewhat more restricted perhaps conservative measurement, but one that also measures current or relatively recent problems.

            As seen in Table 14, one of the factors giving rise to gang riots in prison is knowing whether or not white inmates have a separate gang in the same facility. Among those facilities that did not have a separate white gang, only 21.5 percent of these prisons had gang riots in the last one year time frame. But the chances of a gang riot more than doubles (54.2%) when it is known that the facility has a separate white gang.

            Similarly, exposure to any of the three white racist extremist religious materials are shown in Table 14 to be significant in relationship to gang riots during the last one year period. What these three variables measure is whether any of the three religious organizations have had their materials circulate in their local institution. Thus, both of the Christian Identity religions are shown to be factors of risk in the inmate population. Indeed, exposure to the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) materials more than doubles the risk of a gang riot as seen here.

            Where gangs or gang leaders are able to influence politicians in the state is a factor shown in Table 14 to also significantly differentiate gang riots. The reason this is likely true is the factor of political corruption. Another possibility is that where gangs are particularly well organized they will at some point also try to make inroads into the political arena, if for no other reason than to portray themselves as oppressed organizations or “freedom fighters” of some kind, and of course to portray police and corrections personnel as evil.

            A very powerful factor that significantly differentiates gang riots as shown in Table 14 is knowing whether inmates have attempted to use a religious service as a front for an STG or gang. Where gangs have not tried to use a religious service as a front for an STG or gang, only 20.6 percent of these types of facilities reported having a gang riot last year; compared to 54.6 percent where inmate STG’s or gangs did try to abuse the freedom of religion by using a religious service as a front for the STG or gang.

            Racial disturbances or race riots are shown in Table 14, along with religious riots, to be factors that go hand in hand with gang riots: where one exists, often the other exists as well. They are in many respects co-determinants and interlinked in their causal processes. Facilities reporting more improvised weapons production are also those more likely to have gang riots. Two staff safety variables are also important: whether gang members have been a problem in terms of assault or in terms of threats upon staff, both of these are factors that significantly differentiate gang riots.

            Where Islamic inmates have a separate gang is a factor that is shown in Table 14 to significantly differentiate whether a prison does or does not have gang riots; gang riots are going to be statistically more likely where Islamic inmates have a separate gang.

            Knowing whether or not gang members have tried to control any religious program choices is a factor that also significantly differentiates gang riots in American prisons today. It may be possible to consider this, and is correlate variables, as “critical indicators” of a potential gang riot. Indeed one of the strongest factors is knowing whether a gang or STG has tried to use religious meetings as a way of simply holding a gang meeting: here the risk of a gant riot rises from a baseline of 16.6 percent where inmate STG’s or gangs have not abused a religious meeting in this way, and rises to 61.7 percent risk for a gang riot where the facility indicates that an STG or gang has used a religious meeting as a gang meeting.

            Finally, the variable measuring whether the facility is community-based tends to mitigate against the risk of gang riots; those that are not community-based tend to have the higher risk of a gang riot is what the data shows here.

Table 14

Factors Significantly Differentiating Whether a

Prison Has Had a Gang Riot in the Last Year

                                                            During the last 12 month period, have there been

                                                            Any disturbances related to gang members in

                                                            Your facility?

                                                            NO                              YES                % Yes 

Do white inmates have a

separate gang?            NO                  40                                11                    21.5%

                                    YES                59                                70                    54.2%

                                                            Chi - square = 15.7, p < .001

Whether Kingdom Identity Ministries

(Christian Identity) materials were

received.                     NO                  80                                44                    35.4%

                                    YES                18                                32                    64.0%

                                                            Chi - square = 11.7, p = .001

Whether Church of Jesus Christ

Christian (Christian Identity)

materials were received          NO      75                                40                    34.7%

                                                YES    27                                38                    58.4%

                                                            Chi - square = 9.48, p = .002

Whether World Church of the

Creator (WCOTC) materials

were received                         NO      72                                25                    25.7%

                                                YES    28                                53                    65.4%

                                                            Chi - square = 28.2, p < .001

Do you feel that gangs or gang

leaders are able to influence

politicians in your state?         NO      84                                45                    34.8%

                                                YES    20                                34                    62.9%

                                                            Chi - square = 12.2, p < .001

Have inmates attempted to use

religious services as a front for

an STG or a gang?                  NO      46                                12                    20.6%

                                                YES    58                                70                    54.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 18.7, p < .001

During the last 12 month period

have there been any disturbances

related to racial conflict in

your facility?                          NO      87                                25                    22.3%

                                                YES    15                                57                    79.1%

                                                            Chi - square = 57.3, p < .001

During the last 12 month period

have there been any disturbances

related to religious conflicts

in your facility?                      NO      103                              62                    37.5%

                                                YES     3                                 19                    86.3%

                                                            Chi - square = 18.8, p < .001

Have gangs/STGs tended to result

in more improvised weapons

production (e.g., shanks, etc)

in your facility?                      NO      61                                23                    27.3%

                                                YES    35                                58                    62.3%

                                                            Chi - square = 21.7, p < .001

Have gang members been a

problem in terms of assaults

on your staff?                          NO      93                                54                    36.7%

                                                YES    10                                27                    72.9%

                                                            Chi - square = 15.7, p < .001

Have gang members been a

problem in terms of threats

on your staff?                          NO      84                                37                    30.5%

                                                YES    18                                43                    70.4%

                                                            Chi - square = 26.2, p < .001

Do Islamic inmates have

a separate gang?                     NO      65                                34                    34.3%

                                                YES    36                                42                    53.8%

                                                            Chi - square = 6.77, p = .009

Have gang members tried to

control any religious program

choices at your facility?          NO      74                                36                    32.7%

                                                YES    30                                43                    58.9%

                                                            Chi - square = 12.2, p < .001

Has a gang or STG in your

facility tried to use religious

meetings as a way of simply

hold a gang meeting?              NO      60                                12                    16.6%

                                                YES    44                                71                    61.7%

                                                            Chi - square = 36.4, p < .001

Is your facility

community based?                  NO      47                                52                    52.5%

                                                YES    54                                26                    32.5%

                                                            Chi - square = 7.21, p = .007


            Some factors clearly stood out in terms of variables that significantly differentiated whether a prison did or did not have a race riot during the last year. Table 15 provides the results of this line of inquiry. What is shown here, not surprisingly, is that knowing whether white inmates have a separate gang is a factor that increases the risk of race riots. The reason this is true is that for the most part our previous analysis of this variable about white gangs showed these were in most cases white racist extremist gangs. Similarly, if World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) materials have been received by inmates is a factor of significant risk, and this is demonstrated in Table 15.

            If it is believed that gangs or gang leaders have political pull or influence, then this is also a factor that increases the likelihood of race riots is what Table 15 shows. Table 15 shows that if there have been gang riots, then this factor increases the likelihood of race riots as well; the two are apparently inter-related or highly correlated.

            If staff find it necessary to negotiate with gang members to keep the peace, then this is not a lasting peace is what Table 15 demonstrates: this is a clear and definite risk factor, and the more a facility negotiates with gang members, the more it faces the risk of a race riot. Where staff do not negotiate with gang members, only 34.7 percent of these facilities had a race riot last year, compared to 66.6 percent of the institutions where staff negotiated with gang members. It might work over the short term, but long term it is a bad idea, indeed it will dramatically backfire is what the evidence suggests.

            If gang members have been a problem in terms of assaults on staff or threats against staff, then both of these are risk factors for race riots in American prisons today. Remember staff are the “law” in these environments, and disrespect for the law is never good. So an assault on correctional staff or a threat against correctional staff is really a threat or assault against the government. The risk of a race riot nearly doubles just knowing whether gang members have been a problem in terms of assault or threats against staff.

            Table 15 shows that the variable for belief in the value of a race relations program is significant in relationship to race riot experience. This may basically mean that from race riot experiences correctional staff come to learn the potential value of having a program that would improve race relations. Perhaps it is just an endorsement for the need to search for new and creative solutions to an age-old problem. But the fact is, those who have been through the race riots are bigger believers in the value of a race relations improvement program is what Table 15 shows.

            Finally, if a gang or STG has tried to use a religious meeting as a way of holding a gang meeting — this factor is shown to be a factor of risk for prison race riots. Indeed, the chances of a prison race riot more than double knowing that gangs have abused religious meetings in this way. If ever there was a need to protect the sanctity of religious meetings, then Table 15 shows that evidence. Allowing gangs or an STG to take over a religious meeting or use a religious meeting as a way to hold a gang meeting is something that obviously is known to the other inmates in the facility, it generates fear and tension, and Table 15 shows it increases the chance of a race riot as well.

Table 15

Factors Significantly Differentiating Race Riots in American Prisons Today

                                                During the last twelve month period, have there been any

                                                Disturbances related to racial conflict in your facility?

                                                             NO                              Yes                 % Yes

Do white inmates have a

separate gang?            NO                  38                                12                    24.0%

                                    YES                68                                59                    46.4%

                                                            Chi - square = 7.53, p = .006

Has your facility received any

Prison Ministry Literature from

the World Church of the Creator

(WCOTC)?                 NO                  65                                28                    30.1%

                                    YES                42                                39                    48.1%

                                                            Chi - square = 5.95, p = .015

Do you feel that gangs or gang

leaders are able to influence

politicians in your state? 

                                    NO                  89                                40                    31.0%

                                    YES                22                                28                    56.0%

                                                            Chi - square = 9.55, p = .002

During the last twelve month period

have there been any disturbances

related to gang members in

your facility?              NO                  87                                15                    14.7%

                                    YES                25                                57                    69.5%

                                                            Chi - square = 57.3, p < .001

Do staff in your facility sometimes

find it necessary to negotiate with

gang members in order to

keep the peace?          NO                  105                              56                    34.7%

                                    YES                 8                                16                    66.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 8.93, p = .003

Have gang members been a problem

in terms of assaults on your staff?

                                    NO                  99                                46                    31.7%

                                    YES                12                                25                    67.5%

                                                            Chi - square = 15.9, p < .001

Have gang members been a problem

in terms of threats on your staff?

                                    NO                  87                                32                    26.8%

                                    YES                22                                39                    63.9%

                                                            Chi - square = 23.1, p < .001

Do you believe a program that sought

to improve race relations among

inmates could reduce the gang

violence problem in your facility?

                                    NO                  65                                28                    30.1%

                                    YES                45                                42                    48.2%

                                                            Chi - square = 6.24, p = .01

Has a gang or STG in your facility

tried to use religious meetings as a

way of simply holding a gang meeting?

                                    NO                  54                                16                    22.8%

                                    YES                58                                56                    49.1%

                                                            Chi - square = 12.5, p < .001


            Table 16 provides a summary of the most important factors that significantly differentiate whether prisons do or do not have religious riots. The baseline statistic for the percentage of facilities having religious riots, recall, is only 11.6 percent nationwide; so it is fortunately a low overall problem at the present. This is really the first real research results ever reported on religious riots in American prisons, so obviously much more work needs to be done in this regard, and it is fair to assert that much policy development is needed in this area as well.             It is important to note that religious identity can play a role in a disturbance by both the scenario where a religious group or identity is a scapegoat or is the unfair target of malice or intolerance; i.e., it is a victim of a hate or bias crime. There is also the scenario where it is the offender. To understand the religious riot where the leaders of the riot were operating under the guise of a religious identity, even approved as a “religion” in the prison system, consider the case of the Melanics in Michigan. In Michigan prisons for many years the Melanic Islamic Palace of the Rising Sun (aka “Melanics”) operated as an inmate religion, created by inmates for inmates (you can probably sense trouble at that point). It was the riot in December 1999 that got the group into trouble: the Melanics rioted against prison staff, attacking and trying to kill and injure the correctional officers in the name of their religion. As it turned out, in weeks they were then in January of 2000 classified as a security threat group (STG) and thus they were banned thereafter.

            But because they were rioting as a religious group before they were banned and labelled as an STG, they were technically engaging in a kind of criminal riot, they were just able to hide behind the liberal policies that allowed this gang to operate as a “religion” in the State of Michigan.

            The factor for whether gangs or gang leaders are believed to be able to influence politicians in their state is shown in Table 16 to be a factor that significantly differentiates facilities that have or have not experienced religious riots. Most of the findings are modest in the level of the strength of the relationship.

            Those facilities that have experienced religious riots are showing a higher rate of having programs to improve race relations. It would be assumed that perhaps after religious riots, there may be a push in the direction of establishing such programs to improve race relations. Race and religion are inextricably related in the prison context. A program would have to focus on tolerance and cultural diversity generally, and how hated and bigotry are un-American. But how you sell “American values” to inmates who may hate America could simply be a hard sell.

            Staff who negotiate with gang members is shown in Table 16 to be a factor of risk associated with religious riots.

            Where gang members are a problem in terms of threats on staff, this is a factor or risk associated with religious riots, as shown in Table 16.

            And our final two variables are both related to the abuse of religious rights behind bars today: whether gang members have tried to control religious program choices or whether gang members have tried to use religious meetings as a cover for gang meetings. Both abuses of religion are associated with religious riot. Both are variables that significantly differentiate institutions that do or do not have religious riots is what Table 16 shows.


Table 16

Factors Significantly Differentiating Religious Riots in American Prisons Today

                                                            During the last twelve month period, have there been

                                                            Any disturbances related to religious conflicts

                                                            In your facility?

                                                            NO                              YES                % Yes

Do you feel that gangs or gang

leaders are able to influence

politicians in your state?

                                                NO      119                              11                     8.4%

                                                YES     42                               10                    19.2%

                                                            Chi - square = 4.22, p = .04

Does your facility have any programs

for inmates which seek to improve

race relations among inmates?

                                                NO      130                              10                     7.1%

                                                YES     33                               12                    26.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 12.3, p < .001

During the last twelve month period,

have there been any disturbances

related to gang members in

your facility?                          NO      103                               3                      2.8%

                                                YES     62                               19                    23.4%

                                                            Chi - square = 18.8, p < .001

Do staff in your facility sometimes

find it necessary to negotiate with

gang members in order to keep

the peace?                               NO      148                              16                     9.7%

                                                YES     17                                6                     26.0%

                                                            Chi - square = 5.18, p = .02

Have gang members been a problem

in terms of threats on your staff?

                                                NO      114                               8                      6.5%

                                                YES     45                               14                    23.3%

                                                            Chi - square = 10.6, p = .001

Have gang members tried to control

any religious program choices

at your facility?

                                                 NO      101                               9                      8.1%

                                                YES     60                               13                    17.8%

                                                            Chi - square = 3.84, p = .05

Has a gang or STG in your facility

tried to use religious meetings as a

way of simply hold a gang meeting?

                                                NO      69                                 3                      4.1%

                                                YES    95                                19                    16.6%

                                                            Chi - square = 6.61, p = .01


            In being concerned with some of the extremist religious groups that impact and seek followers in correctional centers, it is also important to point out that there are a good number of legitimate and effective agencies who do a substantial and effective job of positive ministry to inmates. The problem groups are usually cultist in their approach and methodology, that is such groups place emphasis on writings and a leader apart from a Biblical base. The respected Christian ministries are largely evangelical and built upon a Biblical base such as the traditional Apostles’ Creed, while Christian cults center around a charismatic leader.

            Many fine evangelical groups are local and serve a limited area, but some are large and cover much more territory with effective services. As well, many denominations and churches have commissioned some of their finest ministry men and women to correctional chaplaincy service. The problem is “connecting” prisons with these resources. The prison system is not pro-active in seeking out such volunteers, the prison system indeed makes it sometimes very difficult for volunteers to get involved with prisoners. One recommendation here would be that a new national standard is needed in this regard to more effectively match local volunteer resources to prison ministry needs.

            There are many specialized groups beyond a local church doing a great job of service to inmates many of whom have a gang background. The best known is probably Prison Fellowship, founded by Charles Colson. It enlists dedicated volunteers across the world to go behind the walls to provide services, mentoring, study groups and then follow-up services in terms of aftercare. The Good News Jail and Prison Ministry provides very competent chaplains to local and state correctional facilities in many parts of the country as well as overseas. They take no government funds and their chaplains are all donor supported. Some other specific programs can also be identified below.

            Don Smarto, a veteran correctional officer, leads Youth Direct, a program training layment and women to be of service in juvenile correctional facilities. They have excellent training materials for both short term and long term youth corrections work environments. They are headquartered in the Dallas area.

            Straight Ahead ministries in Boston and spreading along the east coast and out across America has a library of printed materials and videos with comprehensive insight into effectively reaching out to troubled teens. They have consistently operated groups, camps, residence centers and a growing list of useful services that have earned this ministry high respect nationwide.

            In Houston, Texas, Jim Leslie directs Cross in the City, providing institutional ministry and followup contacts for young offenders.

            Roman Catholic dioceses across the nation serve their clientele with a wide range of services, residences, parent groups, mentoring, camping trips and literature. The Chicago Cook County program is based out of what is called the Kolbe House and is led by Father David Kelly.             Also in the Chicago area — Gang Outreach in Lake County and the northern suburbs has a wide appeal with former gang kids, and takes a message of hope to youth who are at-risk of gang membership. A similar service in provided in Elgin, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago, called “God’s Gym”, which obviously is also a drop in center and major recreational center serving the larger community. These are programs that do prevention work with regard to gangs and therefore are vitally important to any ministry serving correctional institutions of any kind in America today (jails, prisons, etc).

            Local chapters of the inter-denominational Youth for Christ movement in the U.S., Canada and in countries on every continent have a Juvenile Justice - Youth Guidance outreach to teens in corrections and on probation or parole. Staff and volunteers mentor kids in the justice system and network with other agencies to provide a wide range of services. Here is a down-to-earth, front line ministry service, offering hope and re-direction starting with a practical, caring faith.

            Gordon McLean, a native Canadian began this part of Youth For Christ (YFC) work 55 years ago, beginning in Vancouver and soon moving to the USA, he still (with his colleague John Selph) directs the YFC Juvenile Justice Program of Metro Chicago Youth For Christ. Their team conducts services and mentoring groups working with chaplains at local and state correctional centers. Follow-up includes an Aspire Center that provides teens coming out of corrections as well as other at-risk youth, with GED classes, Job Preparation and Basic Computer Skills. A unique program of theirs is the United Nations. With each of the 140 gangs in the Chicago area having “nation” as the suffix of their gang name (e.g., the Gangster Disciple Nation), YFC brings the rivals together in peace for their U.N. meetings that promote peace, respect and communication. McLean and his young people also provide instruction and training to gang specialists nationwide, as trainers on the gang issue who have massive experience in faith-based approaches to gang prevention/intervention.

            Finally, Gordon McLean is also well known in correctional circles for his books and writings about gangs in America, making him perhaps the best consultant with regard to gang and religious issues in corrections. In 1991 his book Cities of Lonesome Fear: God Among the Gangs came out in its first edition (McLean, 1991). In 1998 he had another gang book published that became widely distributed — across the USA and abroad — directly to inmates as a type of “self-realization” counseling for gang members behind bars: Too Young To Die: Bringing Hope to Gangs in the Hood (McLean, 1998). McLean has also published in the Journal of Gang Research (McLean, 1999).

            There is a need for inter-faith and interdenominational programs designed to reduce racial conflict in American prisons today. For example, involving religious leaders committed to racial reconciliation might help abate tensions between ethnic groups, thereby making the prison environment safer for inmates and correctional staff alike. An effective racial reconciliation ministry could also weaken gang ties based upon race hate. As African-American author George A Jancey writes in his book Beyond Black and White, “there is another institution where over-arching goals and cooperation may serve to end the racial division that has developed. That institution is the church” (Yancey, 1996: p. 159). There is also a large and challenging research need to evaluate the efficacy of the many existing efforts nationwide, behind bars, that also seek to achieve better race relations between inmates.

            There are many valuable and effective religious volunteers from American cities nationwide that could provide new and effective volunteer services to correctional institutions in America today. There is a need for a new national standard here to ensure that a state correctional system has policies and procedures in place — and a point of central contact statewide — to more effectively utilize the tremendous talent of citizen volunteers who are willing to give of their time and energy to assist inmates with their religious and spiritual needs. At a minimum, state correctional systems need a website, Internet-based point of contact along with information on “how to get involved”. There are literally hundreds of different local programs nationwide that involve faith-based services that might be useful resources for correctional institutions. It is not known how well trained the staff in these programs are with regard to gang and STG issues, so this represents another new need for future research. While there may be no single one comprehensive list anywhere yet established, there are some large directories that currently exist (e.g., the International Network of Prison Ministries, see

            In summary, certainly things done by some groups in the name of religion behind bars today are counter productive and questionable. But it is equally important to point out that the groups mentioned here and many others across the nation are a real credit to their faith and their larger society through their volunteer services to corrections. Towards this end, it is useful to provide Appendix A: contact information for some of the resources described above.


            This research has examined gang and security threat group (STG, aka Disruptive Group) problems in the adult state correctional system. Data from N = 193 institutions in 49 states allowed for a detailed analysis, along with comparisons in some cases to trends from previous surveys by the NGCRC. This research had the benefit of both quantitative data and narrative information. The findings and conclusions are summarized below in terms of topical areas.

Sampling Issues:

            Our sample tended to directly mirror the known statistical parameters of the adult American correctional system with regard to gender, race, and other factors. This attests to the validity of the data in terms of an external standard against which to compare.

Scope of the Prison Gang Problem

            The percentage of inmates who are gang/STG members is what measures gang density inside correctional institutions. The threshold for when the gang density level also represents a severe gang problem was shown to be 16.7 percent from the research reported here.

            Among newly arriving inmates, about a fourth of the males (25.9%) were gang members before they were imprisoned; while only 6.28 percent of the female inmates were gang members before entering prison.

            Among the incoming gang members, only 38.2 percent of the males and 7.4 percent of the females, were believed to have had gang tattoos before entering the prison. Thus, it is assumed that a lot of the tattoos that prison gang members have are tattoos they received during some phase of their incarceration. While a small number of prisons (15.7% overall) report having a program that encourages inmates to quit their gang, one of the most effective anti-gang program services known to exist — tattoo removal programs — basically do not exist in American prisons today. The best estimate is that 9.46 percent of the inmates who enter prison as gang members will quit their gang while incarcerated. A fifth (20.3%) of American prisons now have programs for inmates who want to renounce gang life.

            Almost all correctional institutions acknowledge that inmates do join gangs or are recruited into gangs (94.2%) after being incarcerated when they were not gang members on the streets. The best estimate is that 11.6 percent of the male inmates were not gang members on the streets but did in fact join a gang or STG after being incarcerated (3.7 percent for female inmates).

            Some 63.6 percent of the respondents felt that gangs members have significantly affected the correctional environment.  

Violence and Other Problems From Gang/STG Members

            During the last decade there has been a slight increase in the extent to which it is believed that gangs or gang leaders are able to influence politicians in their respective states. This rose from 20.3% of the respondents in 1994 to 29.3% in 2004.

            Drugs (87.8%), protection (76.2%), gambling (73.2%), and extortion (70.1%) were the “rackets” most likely to be controlled by gangs in state prisons; still other rackets like loan sharking were dominated by gangs in 60.4 percent of the prisons surveyed, other rackets and the extent of their control by gangs included: sex (45.1%), food (56.7%), and clothing (40.2%). These are traditional inmate rackets, but more and more they are controlled by gangs is what the data shows. The mean amount of cash (USC) seized from gang inmates in the most recent one year period was $280.24, the largest single amount of cash seized totaled $7,500.

            Most of the respondents (73.6%) believed that gang members generally have a stronger affiliation with their gang after serving time. Most (82.2%) also expressed the opinion that gang members tend to have a higher recidivism rate.

            In 43.9 percent of the prisons there was a gang disturbance in the last one year time period.

            Most (88.4%) of the more dangerous security threat groups that exist in American prisons today also exist by the same name in the outside community. In other words, most of the dangerous prison gangs are also street gangs.

            No consensus exists on which is the most dangerous when comparing prison gangs with street gangs, as both are considered equally dangerous in a correctional setting.

            About half of the prisons (52.5%) indicated that gangs/STG’s have tended to result in more improvised weapons production among inmates. 

            Some 20.4 percent of the facilities reported that gang members have been a problem in terms of assaults on staff; a third (33.7%) reported gang members being a problem in terms of threats against staff. Gangs or gang members account for an average of 20.6 percent of all institutional management problems is a finding of the present research; and gangs account for an average of 26.3 percent of all inmate violence.

            It is estimated that 34.5 percent of the illicit drugs smuggled into prisons today are smuggled in by prison gang members. Prison gangs control 41.7 percent of the illicit drug trade (sales) behind bars, a factor that has increased by more then ten percentage points over the last decade. Gangs control a third (33.6%) of the illegal gambling behind bars.

            It is estimated that 31.5 percent of all inmate assaults involve gang members.

            Only 12.7 percent of the respondents felt that gang members tend to file more law suits against the prison system.

            Some 71.6 percent of the respondents expect the gang problem in corrections to increase in the next few years; about the same (70.5%) as those expecting the problem of inmate violence from gang members to increase in the new few years.

White Extremist Gangs

            When they were first placed on the research radar map in 1991, 27.3% of the state adult correctional institutions reported that white inmates had a separate gang, which rose dramatically to 72.3% of the prisons in 2004 reporting that white inmates have a separate gang. Some 31.5 percent of the prisons reported that inmates have received copies of the book White Man’s Bible, and 36 percent reported inmates possessing copies of the book Temple of Woton: The Holy Book of the Aryan Tribes. Also fueling the growth of white gangs is the fact extremist ministries have had a substantial impact on proselytizing behind bars, this was indicated by the institutions reporting “inmate outreach” from Christian Identity and groups like World Church of the Creator (WCOTC). Some 29 percent of the prisons indicated inmate outreach from the Kingdom Identity Ministries, 36.6 percent indicated inmate outreach from the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, and 45.9 percent from the WCOTC.

            The names of the top white gangs/STG’s were identified, analyzed, and ranked in terms of the frequency of their citation. The top ten white prison gangs/STG’s, in terms of their spread nationwide are: Aryan Brotherhood, Aryan Nation, Skinheads (various factions), Ku Klux Klan, Peckerwoods, Aryan Circle, White Aryan Resistance (WAR), neo-nazis (various factions), Dirty White Boys, and the United Aryan Brotherhood. Many other such gangs obviously exist and the top fifty were described in this report. 

            The top white racist extremist religious front groups proselytizing to inmates were also identified, analyzed, and ranked. The World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) was the top leader in this area, and there was substantial overlap with the white gang list.  

Islamic Gangs

            Some 44.4 percent of the prisons in America now report that Islamic inmates have a separate gang. The names of these Islamic gangs reported by the respondents showed that the Five Percenters are the single largest nationwide, followed closely by Nation of Islam and Fruits of Islam. Some gangs thought to be just ordinary street gangs are now posturing inside some prisons in some parts of the country as having an Islamic identity.


            Oddly, only about half (46.8%) indicated they knew what R.L.U.I.P.A. actually was. Only 17.3 percent of the total sample indicated any abuses of RLUIPA in their institutions. Almost three-fourths (72.5%) believed that prisoners can meet their religious needs individually without group worship. Thus, most (87.1%) agreed that federal legislators need to modify RLUIPA in regard to the security issues facing adult correctional institutions where inmates might be expected to abuse religious rights.

            Some books that might get into prisons under the guise of being religious literature include The Satanic Bible; nearly half of American prisons (47.3%) report that inmates have received copies of the book. This is a major interest, apparently in Wiccan and Pagan worship behind bars is a fundamental conclusion from this research. Over a third of the prisons (37.5%) report inmates who had possessed or manufactured a Book of Shadows; 12.2 percent of the prisons reported inmates requesting the Blod Rite (an Odinist ritual).

            Our best estimates suggest that 29.1 percent of the inmates attend Protestant services, 10.5 percent attend Muslim services; 9.9% attend Catholic services; 1.1% attend Jewish services; and 8.2 percent attend some “other” type of religious services being held behind bars today. The “other” category seemed to be explained by in rank order: Native American Services, Jehohah’s Witness Services, Wiccan Services, Moorish Science Temple of American (MSTA) Services, and Buddhism Services. However, a large list did emerge, and these were identified, analyzed and duly reported. On the average, each prison in America has 6.3 religious groups that are provided time and space for group worship meetings; this was the mean value, the actual range went as high as 22. On the average, the typical American prison has 1.3 religious services that are “led by” inmates themselves.

            Two-thirds (68.8%) of the prisons reported that inmates have attempted to use religious services as a front for a security threat group or gang. Some 40.3 percent of the prisons in the survey reported that gang members have tried to control religious program choices, so it is a substantial problem nationwide. In fact, 61.4 percent of the prisons in America reported that a gang or STG has tried to use religious meetings as a way of simply holding a gang meeting.

            Only a half (49.7%) of the respondents indicated that they had a staff person physically in the room during all religious services in their prisons. Only 18.8 percent of the facilities use video taped or televised services when a chaplain or volunteer is not available for inmate worship services. Some 77.2 percent of the respondents felt that prisoners could practice their religious beliefs in the privacy of their cell/room (or by means of closed-circuit televised broadcast) without the need for group participation.

            Only 4.2 percent currently allow militaristic behavior by religious groups (e.g., saluting, marching, cadence, etc) inside their correctional facilities. But half (51.4%) allow other inmates to be “spiritual leaders” inside the prison, that is they allow prisoners to lead services when volunteers/chaplains are not qualified or available for such services. Only 19.7% allow prisoners to refer to themselves with religious titles of power or authority.

            Most prisons today (84.2%) have developed written standards or guidelines for religious staff and visiting chaplains regarding what is appropriate behavior and language for a secure correctional environment.

            In 11.6 percent of the prisons surveyed there was a disturbance related to religious conflicts during the last one year time period.

            Some 59.8 percent expect the problem of gang members abusing their religious rights to increase in the next few years.

            The top religious services that seem to be run by prisoners for prisoners are (in rank order): Muslim Religious Services, Moorish Science Temple of America, Native American Services, Nation of Islam Services, Asatru Services, Islamic Services, Wiccan Services, Judaism Services, Sunni Muslim Services, and Jumah Services.

Policy Issues for Controlling Prison Gangs

            The vast majority (84.9%) feel that tougher laws are needed to control the gang problem in prison. Many correctional institutions (74.9%) have specific disciplinary rules that prohibit gang recruitment, because most (94.2%) also believe that some inmates may have voluntarily joined or may have been recruited into a gang while incarcerated.

            Most (70.6%) agreed with the idea that bargaining with an inmate gang leader is similar to negotiating with a terrorist. Only 12.7 percent indicated that staff in their facility sometimes find it necessary to negotiate with gang members in order to keep the peace.

            Most (84.8%) believe that federal agencies should play a greater role in the investigation and prosecution of gang crimes.

            About a fourth (24.2%) of the prisons had programs which seek to improve race relations among inmates. During the last year, 38.9 percent of the prisons reported having racial disturbances. Most prisons (83.3%) indicate that most of the staff and employees have received training in cultural diversity. Half (48.1%) believed that a program seeking to improve race relations might also reduce gang violence behind bars. Two-thirds (68.4%) believed that it would be possible to reduce racial conflicts among inmates.

            Only a small fraction (4.3%) of the prisons reported that they receive pressure from state officials to play down gang activity.

            Some 72.5 percent of the facilities responding to the survey indicated that their staff do receive gang training; the average was 6.4 hours for an intensity level. Some 54.9 percent of the respondents believed that providing tuition support for staff could help control the prison gang problem. About two-thirds (65.6%) of the correctional institutions have a full-time staff person who functions as an STG intelligence coordinator.

            Most (85.7%) believe that telephone monitoring is an effective technique to prevent gang leaders from maintaining their ties to outside gang members. And most (87.3%) similarly believe mailing monitoring is effective for the same purpose.

            Two-thirds (66.8%) of the prisons have institutional classification systems that take gang membership into account.

            Only 40.8 percent believed that no human contact status is effective for the control of gang members. Transfers were the number one most popular method for controlling gang problems: transfer the gang member to another prison.

            Almost all (91.5%) endorse the belief that zero tolerance is the best approach for dealing with gangs and gang members.

            Extensive analysis was undertaken and reported on narrative information provided by the prisons about what they would like to do to make their facility safer regarding the gang/STG problem. In terms of priority the areas identified were: increased sanctions are needed to be able to respond to gangs/STG’s, special housing options are needed for gang/STG members, new restrictions are needed regarding gang/STG issues, new services and policies, along with increased staff resources — this would be the “wish list” for dealing with the prison gang problem.

            Similar analysis was reported on what types of innovative approaches have been tried and reported elsewhere in American corrections. The findings here, in terms of priority, were: housing (segregation, etc) options, security/privileges, intelligence/information systems, gang/STG task force, staff training, and new programs/services for inmates.

Miscellaneous Correctional Issues:

            Few (14.5%) reported that their state has a separate correctional facility for confidential informants.

            Few (2.6%) allow prisoners to exchange funds with each other.

            About half of the prisons (47.1%) allow prisoner to prisoner mail; and most (79.4%) agree that it is a major potential security problem.

            The respondents estimated that 12.2 percent of the inmates were mentally ill.

            Most prisons have not had a hostage situation involving inmates and staff (78.7%), but the historical record indicates that there have been prison riots where staff hostages have been killed and gangs are often involved. There was, according to the present data, a “spike” upward in inmate riots during the year 2003.

            The best estimate was that a little less than one out of twenty inmates (4.78%) are so hostile towards their society that if they were approached by a foreign terrorist organization such inmates might become future terrorists.

            Just under half (44.7%) of the responding facilities indicated they had a problem with overcrowding.

            The average number of violent assaults during the last year was 4.89 such serious or life-threatening injuries to inmates.

Factors Differentiating Inmate Weapons

            When inmates manufacture weapons there is always going to be a problem. So a special analysis was undertaken to try to understand the possible motivations for why inmates try to manufacture improvised weapons behind bars. Inmates manufacture a variety of weapons, knives in particular. The presence of white gangs and knowing whether any of the “big three” white racist extremist religious groups have proselytized in the prison (Kingdom Identity Ministries, Church of Jesus Christ Christian, World Church of the Creator) were four variables that each individually turned out to be significant factors in differentiating weapons production. Where these factors were present, there was a higher rate of weapons production. Knowing that Islamic inmates have a separate gang, or if gangs have tried to abuse religious rights to cloak their gang operations, were also significant factors in this regard.

Factors Differentiating Gang Riots

            This was also an area of additional analysis showing what factors might explain gang riots. The presence of separate white gangs and knowing any of the “big three” white racist extremist religious groups have proselytized in the prison (Kingdom Identity Ministries, Church of Jesus Christ Christian, World Church of the Creator) were four variables that each individually turned out to be significant factors in differentiating whether the same prisons had experienced a gang riot during the last one year time period. Where these factors were present, there was a higher likelihood of a gang riot. Knowing that Islamic inmates have a separate gang, or if gangs have tried to abuse religious rights to cloak their gang operations, were also significant factors in this regard.

Factors Differentiating Race Riots

            Two factors that contribute to prison race riots is knowing that white inmates have a separate gang and whether hate literature from WCOTC is circulating among the inmates. Where a gang or STG abuses religious rights by using a religious meeting to hold a gang meeting is also a factor associated with a higher chance of race riots. Gang riots, assaults and threats on staff also are factors associated with higher tendencies towards race riots. Negotiating with gang members to keep the peace backfires when it comes to race riots: this policy is associated with a higher likelihood of race riots. 

Factors Differentiating Religious Riots

            A small number of factors were shown to significantly differentiate whether a prison did or did not experience a religious disturbance during the last one year time period. Factors that increased the chance of such a religious riot included: if gang leaders are able to influence politicians, use of programs to improve race relations, negotiating with gang members to keep the peace, gang riots and gang threats against staff, and when gang members tried to control religious program choices or when a gang or STG has tried to use religious meetings as a way of holding a gang meeting.

            While several recommendations have been embedded in the appropriate contexts within this report, it is helpful to make some specific high priority recommendations here. Uniform or standardized policy compliance is sorely needed to ensure that gangs are not able to freely recruit new gang members while incarcerated; as many as a fourth of the correctional institutions in America may currently be lacking explicit rules for inmates that prohibit gang recruitment. Also needed is a model for inmate classification that takes gang/STG membership into account; and allows for simplifying the “gang/STG validation process”. While prison security staff are indicating a great need to establish local Gang Task Force groups, it may also be useful to establish a parallel Gang Intervention/Prevention Task Force to mobilize volunteers and social resources that can also be put to good use in terms of new programs and services for a strategic gang/STG abatement plan.


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            2004(b) “Shuttling Between Nations, Latino Gangs Confound the Law”, New York Times, p. 1, 14-15.

Toller, W., and B. Tsagaris

            1996 “Managing Institutional Gangs: A Practical Approach Combining Security and Human Services”, Corrections Today (58): 100-111.

Trout, Gregory C.

            2004 “DRC Wins Major Victory: Sixth Circuit Strikes Down the Portion of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) That Applies to Inmates”, The Docket, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Wilkinson, Reginald A., and Tessa Unwin

            1999 “Intolerance in Prison: A Recipe for Disaster”, Corrections Today, June, 1999.


            2004 “Disruptive Groups”. See:

Yancey, George A.

            1996 Beyond Black and White: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Legal Cases:

State v. LaMar, 95 Ohio St.3d 181, 2002-Ohio-2128, Case Nos. 1998-1983. Decided May 15, 2002. Majority opinion written by Justice Deborah Cook

Appendix A:

Contact Information on Selected Religious Programs

1. Prison Fellowship

Prison Fellowship

1856 Old Reston Avenue

Reston, VA 20190

Tel. (703) 478-0100



2. Good News Jail and Prison Ministry

Good News Jail and Prison Ministry

2230 E. Parham

Richmond, VA 23228

Tel. (804) 553-4090



3. Youth Direct

Youth Direct

P.O. Box 380520

Ducanville, TX 75138

Tel. (972) 572-8336

4. Straight Ahead Ministries

Straight Ahead Ministries

43 Hopkins Road

Westboro, MA 01581


5. Cross in the City

Cross in the City

P.O. Box 590571

Houston, TX 77259-0571

6. Kolbe House

Kolbe House

2434 S. California Ave.

Chicago, IL 60608

Tel. (773) 247-0700

7. Youth for Christ USA/Youth Guidance

Youth for Christ USA/Youth Guidance

Box 228822

Denver, CO 80222-8822



Youth for Christ/Canada

2540 5th Avenue NW

Calgary, AB T2N 055

Rev. Gordon McLean/Rev. John Selph

Metro Chicago Youth for Christ - Juvenile Justice 

324 E. Roosevelt Road

Wheaton, IL 60187

Tel. (630) 588-0700