Printer Friendly

Managing gangs in a correctional facility: what wardens and superintendents need to know.

Gangs and security threat groups (STGs) are responsible for most of the criminal activity in prisons and jails. Activities such as drug and contraband smuggling, assaults (inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff), staff corruption and rule violations can create serious management problems that extend beyond the facility into the community. For these reasons, correctional administrators strive to learn more about gang activities, with the goal of implementing the best STG management practices.

Although there is plenty of information written and presented at conferences and seminars about gangs and STGs, the majority of this information usually deals with specific gang intelligence and not gang management. While most of the information presented is interesting and gives great insight into gang operations, it is often too specific for administrators. Information dealing with tattoos, hand signs, colors and beads is of most benefit to gang intelligence officers who use it when working directly with gang members. Such information does not, however, necessarily help administrators develop an overall strategy or protocol for gang management.

Beyond Tattoos, Hand Signs, Colors And Beads

Correctional administrators need a broad view of facility operations. While knowledge of some gang identifiers is important, the specifics of gang intelligence are best left to gang intelligence officers, who constitute an important component of a facility's gang management protocol.

When establishing a gang management protocol, a comprehensive approach is best. Gang units cannot stand alone, and for this reason a successful gang management strategy must coincide with other facility operations and management practices. In many instances, work generated by a gang intelligence unit can provide important nongang-related information relevant to facility operations, such as identifying security problems or training needs. Operational policies and procedures should therefore be established to ensure gang and other operational units support each other's operations.

Forming a gang unit often depends on the availability of staff and funding. Many administrators find themselves in a position of trying to convince the funding source that there is a serious enough problem to pay for gang investigators. When faced with this task, administrators should demonstrate that the skills of facility gang investigators can be used for other facility functions such as routine intelligence gathering, crisis intervention, hostage negotiations, debriefing critical incidents and staff training. A wiser approach might be to demonstrate investigators, who have responsibilities in several areas, including gang intelligence.

Key STG Management Issues

There are several facility operations issues that administrators should consider when developing a comprehensive gang/STG management protocol, such as:

* Intake;

* Classification;

* Intelligence;

* Mitigating factors;

* Facility disturbances;

* Recruitment of gang/STG members;

* Legal aspects of gang management; and

* Staff training.


Intake officers should not be required to conduct detailed investigations and debriefings of gang members if it takes away from their primary duties. Intake officers must simply be trained to flag suspected gang members and designate them for interviews with the facility gang intelligence officer. Policies and procedures must be established for the prompt interview of gang members. Protocols for the safety of the suspected gang member at intake and to mitigate any threats caused by this offender to anyone else in the population should also be developed. Protocol development in this area should include transportation vehicles and holding areas, intake searches, interpreters, gang identification training for intake officers, initial classification, and presentation of security risks.


Classification is one of the tougher management issues. Does a facility avoid placing rival gangs in the same housing areas or at recreation together simply on the basis of their affiliation? If this is done, does the facility wind up in a situation where certain housing units are reserved for or, worse, belong to specific gangs?

When considering a classification policy, particular attention should be paid to the following:

* Gang identification/affiliation intelligence;

* Prior incarceration records;

* Dangerous associations;

* Co-defendant;

* Requests for special housing, programs and/or job assignments;

* Offender programming needs;

* Language barriers: and

* Location in the facility (escape or facility assault risks).

Facility administrators must factor gang management considerations into their classification system in a manner that enhances facility safety., security and good order, and reduces the potential influences of gang control on facility operations. Information provided by gang intelligence officers is an extremely important consideration in establishing classification protocols.


The gang intelligence function is the most important component of a gang management protocol. It must be proactive in nature, and used by operations to anticipate and address problems before they occur. The following are several sources that can be used to develop gang intelligence:

* Identification and interpretation of gang symbols (at intake);

* Interviews and interrogation of gang members (at intake and while incarcerated);

* Information from outside law enforcement and networks;

* Media coverage;

* Monitoring, association, visitation and correspondence;

* Review of criminal records and co-defendants;

* Surveillance (internal and external);

* Confidential informants (i.e., snitches); and

* Participation in gang intelligence networks.

Administrators should ensure that their agency/facility participates in gang intelligence networks. Gang intelligence, like all other types of intelligence information, changes frequently for this reason, agencies need to develop secure intelligence protocols and databases that compile current, useful and practical information that is relevent to the gang population in each facility. Such information must be routinely updated, analyzed and interpreted to assist facility gang intelligence officers in identifying potential problems. This information is also critical in the event of a disturbance since it will provide incident commanders with operational intelligence.

Since many gang members are transient, administrators also must be aware of national or regional gang databases that assist agencies in collecting and disseminating gang intelligence. Two of the most frequently used databases are the Regional Information Sharing System Network and GangNet. These are the two intelligence systems most often used by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

It is important for administrators and gang intelligence staff to remember that gang intelligence information must run on a two-way street. Correctional agencies that compile but do not share gang intelligence information will soon be left out of the informational loop and may even endanger public safety.

Mitigating factors

There are certain factors that can make facility gang management more difficult, but these can be managed through existing resources and may simply require enhancement of existing pracitces.

Outside influences. The degree to which a gang is supported in the community is an important factor because it can translate into outside assistance for incarcerated gang members in areas such as contraband smuggling and staff corruption. Administrators must consider such influences when screening applicants for staff positions, critical assignments and internal affairs operations.

Media coverage. Infamous offenders are nothing new to correctional settings, and media management should be an existing administrative function. It is important, however, to consider that when such an offender is a gang member, the media coverage can roll over into crowd control, criminal activity or other areas that require enhanced operational security.

Degree of violence. While all gangs rely on violence to enforce their rules and achieve their goals, the degree of violence varies from gang to gang. If a gang is willing to threaten staff and their families, administrators must put a threat assessment protocol in place to protecat staff. Such protocols should include collaboration with other law enforcement agencies; procedures for protecting the staff member and his or her family (target) hardening); and specialized training for gang intelligence officers in threat assessment procedures.

Transportation issues. Combined with the above factors, protocols for transporting at-risk gang members should stress stringent security controls. For example, an infamous members of a local gang may not only be an (aided) escape risk, but may also be a target of rival gang members.

Facility Disturbances

Since gangs are responsible for most crime and disturbances in a correctional facility, administrators must proactively use intelligence information to prevent facility disturbances. When, in spite of proactive efforts, a disturbance occurs, gang intelligence information should be readily available to incident commanders to help anticipate the activities of involved gang members. For example, rival gang members may use a facility disturbance to conduct gang hits.

Hostage negotiators and tactical team leaders need to employ specialized techniques to deal with the group dynamics associated with gangs. For example, negotiators and tactical team members can be trained to recognize gang involvement by observing the behaviors and communication styles of the perpetrators during an incident. Inmate behaviors will appear more organized than spontaneous and inmate negotiators will tend to use the term "we" as opposed to "I." Information such as this is crucial in making life and death decisions during a gang-related disturbance.

Recruitment of Gang/STG Members

Unfortunately, the correctional setting is fertile ground for gang recruitment. Newly incarcerated inmates with no gang affiliation may seek the protection and support of established gangs. If inmates believe that facility staff cannot protect them, they are more likely to join a gang to achieve protection. Recruitment not only undermines facility operations, but also threatens public safety when these new gang members are released. Administrators need to enforce existing anti-gang recruiting statutes and address inmate concerns for safety in a manner that discourages recruitment.

There is strong evidence today that terrorist organizations and other STGs are trying to recruit members from inside the facility. In fact, several high-profile terrorist incidents have involved inmates recruited by Islamic radicals. The cases of Richard Reid (the so-called shoe bomber) and Jose Padilla (the so-called dirty bomber), both former inmates who converted to Islam and later took up the cause of terrorism, illustrate this point.

One fortunate issue about terrorist recruitment of gang members is that most gangs are reluctant to associate with terrorist organizations. While terrorists can offer gangs large sums of money, gang leaders realize that the added law enforcement scrutiny, strengthened by anti-terrorism laws, would likely endanger, and perhaps end, their criminal enterprises and money-making operations. However, this des not preclude the possibility of affiliation, and any sign of gang coopertion with terrorist inmates should be shared with other law enforcement agencies.

Legal Aspects of Gang Management

There are numerous legal ramifications that, if not properly addressed, can hamper an administrator's efforts to implement a gang/STG management protocol. Gang lawyers are adept at overturning and pursing remedies for unwarranted restrictions of their client's constitutional rights. While administrators cannot stop such suits, they should strive to reduce their liability by considering constitutional rights related to gang management and proactively addressing them.

Fox example, when administrators restrict a right of a gang member, they should provide specific examples that demonstrate how that right, if allowed, would impair the agency's ability to protect the general public from harm (e.g., escapes, criminal enterprise, terrorism). Administrators also must demonstrate how they employ recognized correctional management practices and are prepared to restrict activities that are not pursuant to the legitimate penological inerests of care, custody and control.

When restricting the rights of gang members (or any other inmate) is necessary, staff members must articulate how the exercise of such rights endangers care, custody and control or creates an excessive hardship for the facility. Courts usually require administrators to find less restrictive alternatives (rather than removing the right all together) so the inmate may exercise his or her right to some degree without endangering the facility. For example rival gang members may want to attend the same religious service; however, allowing this would create a foreseeable risk of assaults or other disruptions. Administrators might then provide less-restrictive alternatives, rather than barring religious rights altogether, like scheduling additional services, providing personal religious counseling, alternating the groups allowed to attend the existing service, or some combination of the above.

Correctional administrators and all staff should be aware of the types of crimes that gang members commit while incarcerated. They should also be familiar with corresponding criminal/penal codes so that when gang members violate such codes they are charged with a crime.

Staff Training

The most important consideration in training staff is staff safety. The type and amount of training required by staff members will vary depending on their duties. For example, too much information given to line officers may actually cause problems. it can result in staff giving undue consideration to gang members (empowerment); staff drawing dangerous conclusions by misinterpreting gang symbols; staff interventions that compromise gang intelligence efforts; and staff intimidation--all of which can jeopardize staff and facility safety.

While there is no argument that gang intelligence officers need specialized training, most line staff do not. Line officers should not be so concerned with interpreting gang symbols that they miss the shank in the inmate's hand. Detailed information about gang symbolism can be confusing and line staff should not rely on it to make critical decisions. The following four training protocols are suggested to train categories of facility staff.

All line officers and inmate contact staff should be able to recognize;

* Common threads - Overview of how gangs operate;

* Criminal enterprise - Types of criminal activities they engage in;

* Dangers to staff and facility - How gang behavior endangers the facility, what to look for and how to report it.

* Types of Gangs - Types of gangs in the locality and their general characteristics; and

* Agency gang management protocol.

Gang intelligence for intake and classification staff would comprise:

* Information about predominate gangs operating in the facility, system and community;

* Specific behaviors, tattoos, hand signs, graffiti and clothing; and

* Specific related dangers such as gang conflicts.

Gang intelligence officers must know about:

* Investigative processes;

* Sources of information and networking;

* Crime scene preservation and evidence;

* Interview and interrogation;

* Photography;

* Surveillance;

* Intelligence systems and networks;

* Gang familiarization and identification;

* Visual and verbal indications of gang behaviors and activities;

* Threat assessment/management;

* Use of confidential informants;

* Legal issues; and

* Management and classification issues.

The influence that gangs have on U.S. facilities will be directly impacted by the actions or inactions of the administration. The more control gangs have over a facility, the more violence, criminal activity and danger there is to the general public. Superintendents and warden must have more extensive training in the areas covered in this article, or their facilities will become dangerous places for all staff and inmates. A sound gang management strategy and the implementation of a management protocol will increase facility safety and enhance overall public safety.

Joseph J. Marchese is former deputy director of criminal justice for the New York State Department of Correctional Services. He is currently a corrections consultant.
COPYRIGHT 2009 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:CT FEATURE
Author:Marchese, Joseph J.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2009
Previous Article:Prison Gangs 101.
Next Article:Understanding the effects of trauma on lives of offenders.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters