One of the major problems of corrections today is the security threat group or more commonly known as the “prison gang”. A security threat group (S.T.G.) can be defined as any group of offenders who pose a treat to the security and physical safety of the institution. “ Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, prison gangs focused primarily on uniting inmates for self protection and the monopolization of illegal prison activities for monetary gain” (F.B.P., 1994, p. 2). S.T.G.’s are mostly divided along racial lines and practice some sort of defiance towards authority. S.T.G.’s use a variety of hand signs, alphabet codes, tattoos, and different types of gang terminology. Gangs characteristically have rivals and make an alliance with other gangs. The criminal activity of S.T.G.’s does not only exists inside the confines of the prison walls, but has flowed to the outside world. “Prostitution, extortion, drug selling, gambling, loan sharking – such activities are invariably operated by prison gangs” (Gaines, Kaune, Miller, 2000, p.652). The Texas Prison System consists of eleven classified security threat groups; Texas chooses to classify a gang as a S.T.G. when they become involved in violent activity. “Prison gangs exist in the institutions of forty states and also in the federal system” (Clear and Cole, 2000, p. 260). Three main stages that the offender will experience with the S.T.G. are recruitment, the gang experience, and affiliation upon release.
Recruiting efforts begin with the intake of the offender into the prison system. The best recruitment takes place in transfer facilities where offenders are held before they are classified as to what security level prison they will be sent to. There are steps that must be followed when becoming a prospective applicant for the gang. The steps of recruitment vary from gang to gang and consist of sponsorship, probationary periods, and a vote of acceptance from fellow members. “Sponsorship is mandatory, and only after acceptance may an inmate identify himself with a tattoo or patch” (Ralph, 1997, p.185). Most gangs utilize a “blood in, blood out basis for gang membership: A would-be member must stab a gang’s enemy in order to be admitted, and once in cannot drop out without endangering his own life” (Clear and Cole, 2000, p.260). Besides killing a rival there are other ways to enter the gang and receive acceptance. Those ways include, but are not limited to, assaulting an officer, doing drug deals, or “catching a cell” which means to go into a cell with members of the gang for which the recruit is trying to enter and fighting against them to determine if the prospective member can “hold his own”. These methods of entrance are what contribute to a large majority of the prison violence. The past prison experience relied on “the order and stability provided by the old inmate subculture (which) has been replaced by an atmosphere of conflict and tension, in which inmates align themselves into competing gangs and other inmate organizations” (Bohm and Haley, 1999, p. 351). The gang culture is also based on loyalty and trust of fellow members, such as a “united as one” attitude. This attitude has brought up confidence in offenders, but helped to diminish the effectiveness of the authority of the correctional officers. With the problem of gangs in hand, many states have decided to lock-up gang members in administrative segregation in order to reduce violence and new recruiting efforts. In turn, gang members are concealing their affiliations from the prison officials, which makes it harder to control gang activity.
Of the twenty-three gangs in The Texas Department of Criminal Justice only eleven are classified as security threat group’s. Those eleven gangs are the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, Aryan Circle, Barrio Aztecas, Bloods, Crips, La Hermanos De Pistoleros Latinos, Mexican Mafia, Raza Unida, Texas Chicano Brotherhood, Texas Mafia, and Texas Syndicate. The above listed security threat group’s are divided mainly among racial lines. The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas originated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in the early 1980’s. The geographic location is confined strictly to Texas and does not recruit members outside of Texas. It is based on the same ideas of the Aryan Brotherhood, but is not a faction of the group and lays no claim to affiliation of its members. “The gang is comprised of mostly white racist inmates”(F.B.P., 1994, p. 30). Members of this gang practice the ideas of “White Power” and “the advance of the supreme white race”. The gang utilizes a council that oversees operations and issues orders for organized crime or violent activities. The council is made up of certain offenders from prison units across the state and each member of the council acts as the liaison for the members of their respective unit. The identifying marks that some members choose are relics of the German Nazi type symbols, such as a swastika inside a circle or a shield with two swords crossed with a swastika in the middle. Two lightning bolts side by side are also characteristic of Aryan Brotherhood of Texas members, but must not be confused with the similar use of the same tattoo by the white knights. Its enemies consist of gangs such as the Mandingo Warriors, La Nuestra Familia, Black Guerilla Family, and other black groups. At this current time the enemies of the Texas Aryan Brotherhood are not classified as security threat groups because of their small number of members.
The bloods originated as a street gang in Compton, California with the primary goal to protect its members against the Crips Street Gang. Factions of the Bloods gang are sometimes called Piru, which signifies the street where the gang originated. The main gang is based out of Los Angeles, California and has many sets across the nation. Many of the larger cities in Texas have their own set. When the members get to prison they become one group of Bloods. Since the Bloods is mainly a street gang they are very different in their recruiting methods. They do not recruit inside the prison system. The recruiting efforts only take place in the cities where the sets are. In order to become a member the recruit must do a robbery in the presence of other gang members, do a drive-by shooting, or get “rolled” or beat-up by members. “The Bloods present a significant threat to correctional administrators not only due to their predatory and violent behavior, but more importantly due to their intense rivalry with the Crips” (F.B.P., 1994, p.53). The Bloods do not usually wear a tattoo signifying their affiliation, but will wear some type of red clothing. In the correctional setting the members will try to wear red shoestrings or red shoes, since they are unable to wear street clothing in prison. When the bloods are on the streets they are easily identified by the wearing of red bandanas and red clothing. The Bloods have their own cipher and use graffiti to get their message across. Some of the most common graffiti is negative towards the Crips or is used to mark their territory. The Bloods are allied with any gang that considers the Crips an enemy.
The Crips Street gang is a violent black gang that was formed in South-Central Los Angeles, California in 1969. “During the early 1970’s, the gang grew and branched out to other parts of Los Angeles County; these new subsidiary, or realigned existing gangs were known as sets, and they used the term Crips in their individual gang name” (F.B.P., 1994, p.58). The Crips concentrate mostly on extortion and violence towards other Street gangs. The Crips are a very large gang spread across the country and “should the Crips ever become more structured, they could present more serious problems than created by other recognized prison gang or STG’s” (F.B.P., 1994, p.58). The reason that the Crips are such a security hazard is that the average age is 20 years old and the mentality is more towards violence to solve disagreements instead of reasoning. The Crips do not use tattoos as identifying marks except for their street name. They identify themselves with the color blue and are known to wear clothing of that color in the free world. Other trends include the wearing of British Knights tennis shoes because the B/K signifies “bloods killers”. Crips have their own alphabet and usually replace the letter “B” with the letter “C” in writing or will put an “X” in the top of the letter “B”. When writing the letter “A” the Crips will write it upside down to show disrespect to the Bloods, since “A” comes before “B”. The Crips are allies with anyone who considers the Bloods an enemy.
La Hermanos De Pistoleros Latinos is more commonly know as HPL, which stands for “Brotherhood of Latin Gunmen”. “The HPL is comprised mostly of Mexican nationals incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice” (F.B.P., 1994, p.36). It is currently one of the largest S.T.G.’s in the state of Texas, just below the number of members to the Mexican Mafia and Texas Syndicate. A member must be of Latin origin, such as from Mexico, Cuba, or Puerto Rico. The executive rules of the HPL states, “I will not be able to induct as a Latino-brother any White or Black but only Latinos. Latinos should be any Latin origin; Chicanos, Mexicanos, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans and all persons that speak Latino or are descendents of Latin families.” The group is considered to be very violent because of there involvement with many murders and assaults on enemies. “The group is known to be involved in various illegal activities including narcotics trafficking, gambling, inmate assaults, protection rackets, and staff intimidation” (F.B.P., 1994, p.36). The HPL has split into two factions because of disagreements in the way operations were being run. One faction is called the “16/12”, which refers to the 16th and 12th letters of the alphabet “P” and “L”. The “P” and “L” stand for Pistoleros Latinos. The other faction is called the “45’s” which is derived from the tattoo of a .45 caliber pistol found usually on the stomach area directly under the ribs.Both factions use the original constitution and rules. The HPL is currently conducting meetings in order to reunite both sides back together. Some of the 16/12’s are refusing to unite and are forming their own group called the Pistoleros Mexicanos or PM. At one time the HPL aligned with the Mexikanemi (Mexican Mafia), but is now at war with them because of some recent events involving drug deals gone wrong and murdering of each other’s members.
Mexikanemi better known as the Mexican Mafia or “La Eme” is Currently the largest disruptive group in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Mexican Mafia was started in 1984 as a means for Hispanic inmates to become more aware of their cultural heritage. As membership increased, the Mexican Mafia changed from just being aware of their cultural heritage and began taking part in criminal activities. Those criminal activities are extortion, narcotics trafficking, and murder both inside and outside the prison walls. Their constitution states, “in being a criminal organization, we will function in any aspect or criminal interest for the benefit or advancement of La Eme. We will traffic in drugs, contracts of assassination, prostitution, robbery of high magnitude, and in anything that we can imagine.” The recruiting process consists of a sponsorship where the recruit is taught the ways of the gang and then voted in. “The background check is poorly conducted, and only a majority vote is required to gain admittance to the gang” (Ralph, 1997, p.185). The Mexican Mafia is structured under para-military lines with a president, vice-president, and generals that members are expected to follow strictly. The president is in charge of all members both inside and outside the prison system. This is also true for the vice-president and generals. Each of the generals are responsible for a specific geographical area of the state. Lieutenants are appointed to be in charge of certain cities and specific units by the president or vice-president. The Mexican Mafia’s operations are not strictly confined to the state of Texas and they currently conduct illegal activities in several states. The largest number of members hail from the San Antonio, Texas area which is why San Antonio is the home city of the Mexican Mafia. Other areas containing strong membership are Dallas, Houston, Austin, and El Paso. Members of the Mexican Mafia can be identified by tattoos displaying an eagle with a snake in the mouth. Another common marking is the word “eme” or a sun and a two-headed snake. Enemies of the Mexican Mafia include the Texas Syndicate,
The Texas Mafia is a predominantly White group that was formed in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in the early 1980’s. This group is made up mostly of offenders that have a vast knowledge of narcotics and narcotic trafficking. This group is known for their violence as shown in the large number of offender homicides the group has participated in. The Texas Mafia is closely aligned with the Texas Syndicate. Their rules refer to the Texas Syndicate as their “cousins”. Recruiting efforts have slowed due to the number of other white gangs and the fact that they are aligned with a predominantly Hispanic gang. “Gang tattoos are worn on the right forearm or behind the right shoulder; before a member leaves the Texas Department of Criminal Justice he must be tattooed” (F.B.P., 1994, p.47). At this current time the Texas Mafia has no known enemies.
Texans incarcerated in the California Prison System formed the Texas Syndicate (TS) in 1974. Some members came back to Texas, were arrested and incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where the recruiting began and brought the Texas Syndicate to be the second largest S.T.G. in Texas. Members are predominately Mexican American males, but there are some instances where White offenders have been accepted as full members. “The TS has a formal organizational structure and set of written rules (movidas) for its members. A TS member is called a “carnal,” a group is called “carnales,” and a TS recruit is called a “cardinal.” The institutional leader is called the “Chairmen””(F.B.P., 1994, p.19). The primary goal of the TS is the control of the narcotics trade, extortion of other offenders, control prostitution, undermine prison officials, and conduct contract killings as needed. “The Texas Syndicate also employs what are called “advisors” or “financers” who are not members but work for the group one admitted “financer” reported that his responsibilities included holding money for the gang as well as “hooking officers.” The money he held was kept in an outside bank account … To “hook” an officer, the inmate gains the confidence of an officer, usually new to the job, then persuades the officer to bring in narcotics to distribute among Texas Syndicate members. The officers are rewarded with up to 40 percent of the profits” (Ralph, 1997, p.184-185). The Texas Syndicate has dropped their blood in, blood out rule. Now a member can exit the gang short of death, but they can never join another gang without certain death. Enemies of the Texas Syndicate include the Raza Unida and the Mexican Mafia.
When the time comes most gang members will be released from prison. Upon release members must report in to the area leader of the gang. If a member of the Mexican Mafia does not repot in within one week of release, then a hit is put out on that member. The only way to get out of the Mexican Mafia is to flee the state and move far away up North. As of today the only gang that will release a member without death is the Texas Syndicate.
The pressures of gang influence among the inmate population are higher than it has ever been. The main contributing factor is violence and extortion on non-gang members. Gang membership is no longer for the inmate who has a long sentence and needs the protection to make his time easy. Gang member rates are rising in the state jail system where the maximum sentence is usually two years. Deciding to join one of the prison gangs is a life altering decision. When one enters, they not only endanger themselves, but also family and friends. As it is stated in many of the by-laws, “blood in, blood out”-membership is for life.
Bohm, R.M., & Haley, K.N.(1999). Introduction to Criminal Justice (2nd edition). New York: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill.
Clear, T.R., & Cole, G.F.(2000). American Corrections (5th edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Federal Bureau of Prisons.(1994) Security Threat Groups Symbols and Terminology (Fall 1994 edition). Sacramento: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Gaines, L.K., & Kaune, M., & Miller, R.L.(2000) Criminal Justice in Action. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Ralph, P.H.(1997). From Self Preservation to Organized Crime: The Evolution of Inmate Gangs. In J.W. Marquart, & J.R. Sorensen (Eds.). Correctional Contexts: Contemporary and Classical Readings (pp. 182-186). Los Angeles: Roxbury