One clique: why rivals on the streets become allies behind bars.
Like many custodial agencies, the Georgia Department of Corrections recognizes the existence of security threat groups (STGs). Awareness of the activities of these groups helps to improve the overall security of a facility because, by definition, these various types of associations and groups have the potential to cause disruption. There are four commonly accepted major categories of STGs:
* Street Gangs--Organizations that have their strongest memberships in the communit;
* Prison Gangs--Organizations formed within a penal setting;
* Extremist/Separatist Groups--Organizations with views that promote seperation or superiority of one group over another based on race, religious beliefs or political ideologies; and
* Motorcycle Clubs--Criminal biker organizations that identify with the 1 percent theory (99 percent of bikers are law abiding; therefore, the other 1 percent are outlaws).
Although there are four accepted categories of STGs, the analysis of threats is not limited to inmates who may fall under one of these headings. It is essential that monitoring is not limited to these groups because the culture of a custodial setting often fosters impraomptu-situational groups that gravitate together around a particular commonality. These situational groupings and associations must also be monitored because they have the potential to compromise security in correctional settings.
Race is one of the strongest commonality factors among inmates within the correctional system. This primary division is often broken down into other groups or associations within the larger group, and it is where many STG affiliations are found. Within an STG, race or culture is no exception, as evidenced by such groups as the Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerrilla Family and Mexican Mafia. Although the groups are prison gangs that were founded based on race, there are conflicts that occur between them and other groups organized by race.
For example, there are well-documented conflicts between the Mexican Mafia and La Nuestra Familia, both of which are Hispanic culture/race groups that have a history of violence against each other. Incidents of intra-racial conflicts are not limited to prison gangs formed around race; street gangs also have a history of conflicts between rival groups of the same race. These conflicts often can continue when members of the groups enter the prison system. Conflicts in prisons and in the community between Surenos and Nortenos, Crips and Bloods, and People and Folk gangs have been well-documented by the media. However, in the Georgia correctional system there is a possible factor that appears to cause rival associations within the Hispanic culture to band together. This association has resulted in what appears to be a prison truce within the Hispanic population that includes rival Hispanic STGs.
In Georgia, there has been a steady growth in the general Hispanic population that has affected the overall Hispanic prison population. The Hispanic population currently represents about 5 percent of the incarcerated population. Although 5 percent is a relatively low figure, it is important to note that this percentage also reflects the fact that the population has doubled in number from 2001 to 2006. If that doubling trend continues every six years, it is likely that Hispanics will represent 10 percent of the population by 2013.
This article is not intended to imply that the Hispanic population as a whole inside or outside the Georgia correctional system should be validated as an STG. But, as stated earlier, prison groups associate based on common identifiers and the DOC has noted an alliance among Hispanic inmates that transcends the fiercest street and prison gang alliances for group strength.
The rationale that there is a need for strength among any inmate population is not surprising because it directly relates to a need for security. Although there may be some varied points of view between custodial agencies and inmates as to what constitutes security, both have this need as a primary issue. For the agency, security means equality of safety for all staff, the public and inmates. In inmate circles, security often relates to their ability to control the population because control prevents victimization. Control also gives authority to one group over other weaker inmate populations.
Within the Georgia penal system, the Hispanic population appears to have the highest overall percentage of STG members. In the general prison population, the security threat population has remained below 4 percent during the past four years, while the percentage of Hispanics in STGs has averaged between 7 percent and 9 percent during the same period.
The higher percentage of STG inmates within the Hispanic population is significant because it supports the possibility that Hispanic STGs have a stronger voice within the larger group. This is critical because validated STGs tend to have a strong organizational structure, which can give the STG a cohesive bond and offer a sense of security to weaker members. Thus, a relationship is developed that creates an atmosphere that forces the individual to remain close to the group. The STG provides security, recreation and a voice to communicate to other groups and prison staff. In return, the member becomes an agent of the STG and must remain loyal. That loyalty may be required in any situation regardless of the type of activity. If the STG has a problem, then the member must be an active part of the solution.
For example, inmates of a race that is outnumbered often believe that they are targeted by the more dominant race. If a minor incident occurs between Hispanic inmates and black inmates, the event may be viewed by the Hispanic inmates as predatory. Events such as thefts are not viewed as isolated events in this perceived power-struggle environment and can trigger group retaliation, which will escalate the conflict. These types of events often reveal that the problem is more complex than the event that triggered the retaliation. There appears to be a collective sense among Hispanic inmates in the Georgia system that this David and Goliath conflict exists because of their small population, which make them appear to be an easy target for black inmates. Their assertion is that banding together will reduce their risk because they will operate as a larger collective--all for one and one for all.
More than likely, the indoctrination of banding together by race rather than splintering along STG or other variances is instilled early in the incarceration process. In this dynamic, Hispanic inmates will be advised by other Hispanic inmates already in the system that their associations prior to prison are nonessential. A truce between the rival groups must be maintained during their periods of incarceration. For example, it is not uncommon to find an inmate affiliated with a Surenos gang sharing a cell with a Nortenos-affiliated inmate without any open conflict.
Just like other street gangs, Hispanic-affiliated gangs have a history of interpreting the presence of a rival gang member in their area as a violation. The penalty for those violations can lead to the death of the rival gang member. There are no extensive formal associations between rival gang members, and street truces are not often lasting. But because prison presents a special set of circumstances and the probability of victimization and isolation are high, it is better to be with someone of the same culture even if that person is viewed on the streets as a mortal gang enemy.
This association is apparently recognized only during their incarceration, and upon release their street affiliations are reinstated and a rival prior to incarceration is a rival once again. There has been no indication that this truce happens in county and municipal jails; it appears that this alliance only applies to state facilities.
Growth of the Hispanic Population in Georgia Prisons 1993 353 1994 464 1995 509 1996 576 1997 613 1998 737 1999 890 2000 1101 2001 1207 2002 1427 2003 1518 2004 1728 2005 1960 2006 2334 2007 2556 2008 2621
There are some concerns about how long this truce will remain a viable factor among this population. Because it is a volatile situational alliance, there is always the possibility of one STG with more membership overriding the other, creating tension in the group. That tension could be expanded as the group becomes larger and more Hispanics enter the system. If the rate of Hispanic inmates continues trending upward, in the next five years their presence may be significant enough that they will begin to splinter into smaller subsets and their alliance may become severed.
It is also possible that other STGs will begin to view the Hispanic population as a threat. This could present a dangerous situation for Hispanic inmates because although they constitute a higher overall percentage of STG members, they still make up a small percentage of the prison population. Therefore, their ability to defend themselves from a collective assault is limited.
Another concern is that the STG's influence over the actions of Hispanic inmates can potentially undermine the penal system's authority to resolve conflicts and address issues. This can have a huge impact on the climate of a facility and the ability of staff to provide a safe and secure environment.
Language is a primary barrier between staff and Hispanic inmates. When a Spanish-speaking inmate is interviewed about a specific incident, there is usually another inmate serving as an interpreter. The inmate interpreter is also a member of the Hispanic inmate population, which means that he can report the information back to the Hispanic gang leaders if the inmate makes an allegation against the group. That interpreter can even change the statement of the inmate interviewee without staff being aware because of the language barrier.
The Georgia DOC has taken steps to reduce this risk by hiring a bilingual investigator and seeking bilingual staff. This provides the department the resources to respond to a crisis involving Hispanic inmates and ensures that the inmates are afforded privacy while giving statements and that the reported statements are accurate accounts of what was said.
Bilingual staff have had a positive effect on communication between correctional staff and inmates. In addition, several staff members have begun to take a strong interest in improving their bilingual skills. How far reaching the effects bilingual staff will have are yet to be determined in mitigating possible conflicts. What is apparent is that it has improved the DOC's ability to accurately assess the Hispanic population's issues and concerns, which allows Hispanic inmates to seek the help of staff in dealing with their issues.
Sharrod Campbell is investigator and STG coordinator for the Georgia Department of Corrections' Office of Investigation and Compliance/Intetligence.