Sunday, December 23, 2012

Part 2: Prison Gang Violence & Possible Remedies

During and after the Attica Prison Riot on September 9, 1971, authorities eventually agreed to twenty-eight of the prisoners' demands. Inmates stated they rioted, in part, due to the death of George L. Jackson, a black radical activist prisoner who had been shot to death by Corrections Officers in California's San Quentin Prison Adjustment Center on August 21st. Jackson was a founder of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF). Public outrage over how the situation was handled and scrutiny by a review commission led to several post-riot reforms. One of the biggest reasons given for the riot was overcrowding, but to this day Attica Prison is still over maximum capacity by double bunking a portion of their population in small cells designed to house only one inmate.

Reducing overcrowding is one way to cut down on prison and jail violence.

After the New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot in February of 1980, inmates and officials also blamed overcrowding, inferior services, and lack of inmate programs as being major causes of the disturbance. There was also a shortage of correctional officers and training. Some staff used a form of manipulation called the "snitch game" to control uncooperative prisoners and label inmates who would not behave as being informants. This tactic meant the named inmate would often start being abused by fellow convicts. Then prisoners would choose to become a "snitch" to get away from their tormentors, however; this hampered efforts to get accurate information as inmates would often set up others or make bogus claims. This increased tension as inmates became suspicious of each other and distrustful of officers. Rioters broke into the infirmary to steal and take drugs. Many informants were killed with extreme brutality. Rioting inmates affiliated with Los Carnales (LC) gang were involved. Rivals soon formed the Sindicato Nuevo Mexico (SNM) gang.

Careful use of reliable informants and proper staff training are good ways to reduce violence.

The 1984-85 bloodshed in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison system was also blamed, in great part, on gangs who had filled a power vacuum after the prior inmate trustee system was abolished. The Texas Syndicate (TS) attacked many inmates and gave rise to rival organizations like the Texas Mexican Mafia, also known as the Mexikanemi. To better deal with growing violence TDCJ later created the Gang Renouncement And Disassociation (GRAD) process in which members are given an avenue to denounce their gang membership. Part of the process also exposes them to Anger Management and Cognitive Intervention.

Careful monitoring of inmate behavior, appropriate discipline, and effective programs are good ways to reduce violence.

After prison gang violence increased in the 1970s, Security Housing Units (SHU) were built by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Both Corcoran and Pelican Bay State Prisons were designed to house the state’s most serious offenders in a secure, safe, and disciplined institutional setting.  The SHU was a modern design for prison gang members and violent maximum security inmates. SHU housing pods are small and inmates look out through a perforated steel door at a solid concrete wall. Human contact and privileges are minimal. Food is delivered twice a day (hot breakfast, sack lunch, and hot dinner) through a slot in the cell door. A correctional officer in a control booth controls all SHU doors. The C/O can press a button and allow one prisoner at a time to go out to a shower or to a court-mandated five hours per week of outdoor exercise. This exercise takes place in a cement yard, often called a "dog run", which extends the length of three cells and has a roof partially open to the sky. The correctional officer in the control booth is always armed. From his central vantage point, he can shoot onto any one of six pods, each containing eight cells.

Safety and Security Measures and Fair Policies for both staff and inmates are proven ways to reduce violence.

CDCR is currently in the midst of what it calls a "dramatic policy shift” to determine who still belongs in isolation and what SHU inmates can return to General Population (GP). It intends to review the case file of thousands of SHU inmates in the near future. Since October, 2012, officials have reviewed 88 SHU cases and decided 58 inmates can be transferred. Another 25 have been placed in a "step-down" program and can work towards eventual transfer to GP. Just 63 inmates were released out of the SHU in the prior 10 months of 2012 before the new policy took effect in late October of this year.

"This is a huge overhaul," CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thorton said, "This is a huge shift in the way we manage gangs."

The new regulations are temporary and set to expire in October of 2014. Officials said they purposely set an expiration date so they can tweak the regulations and make changes after working with them for two years before making it standard operating policy. Critics argue the step-down process still requires "cooperation" with Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) and it still requires many years before release from isolation cells. Some even allege the new policy expands definitions of gang activity, which will result in even more inmates getting sent off to the SHU based on vague criteria or just for being suspected members of an expanded Security Threat Group (STG) list.

Prison officials insist otherwise and argue that new regulations require more concrete gang "behavior" than merely just possessing “suspicious” artwork or letters. For instance, officials no longer automatically transfer an inmate who is found to only "Associate" with a gang. Inmate Todd Ashker, alleged to be a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was convicted of 2nd Degree Murder of a fellow inmate while housed at Folsom Prison. He says most gang "validations" are based with evidence provided by anonymous informants "making it virtually impossible" to credibly refute. He also filed a lawsuit against CDCR. Lawyers for the state contend the new policy addresses issues raised in Ashker’s lawsuit and are seeking its dismissal. A federal judge is set to hear legal arguments on the matter in 2013.

In Washington-DOC, while known gang members make up 18 percent of the state's prison population of 18,000, they account for 43 percent of major violent incidents and are responsible for many infractions. Washington State Jails, even though many administrators refuse to accurately track or acknowledge it, note similar statistics. In urban western Washington county jails Black gang members often create violence, while in more rural eastern counties Hispanic gangs like Norteños and Sureños are responsible for most fights.

Inmate Behavior needs daily monitoring, prison and jail lockdowns should be used for security reasons only, not as long-term group punishment.

It is widely known the incarceration rate in America is the highest among developed nations. In 2002, incarcerated individuals (90% of them men) was estimated at two million.  That has gone down recently due to financial pressures at all government levels more than any major push for overcrowding reductions. Three common reactions to prison gang violence by staff are: Segregation, Consolidation, and Inmate Transfers. It is also well known that Minority members of society are disproportionally represented in the prison system and as a result of Security Threat Groups, many correctional institutions are now trying to combat prison violence though intervention programming.

Facilities need inmate violence control suppression, gang members need intervention, and the community needs better youth gang prevention.

Lastly, there are few good studies on inmate violence in America. Agencies tend to keep statistics low key and are very fearful of inmate lawsuits today. They have historically been reactive, not proactive. Many Administrators believe if they can suppress issues long enough they may go away or inmates may give up. To be frank, many are near retirement and don’t want to be bothered more than they are already are. But, deliberate indifference may prove to be more costly for cash strapped governments than immediately addressing issues? Maybe society should starting dealing better with disciplinary and psychiatric issues in children before they get to be problem adults? Maybe we should teach youth the skills they need to function in society and give more hope to improve their lives?

Another factor that gets overlooked a lot is many men and women locked up in our nation's institutions are lacking a spiritual rudder to successfully navigate the turbulent seas of life. It is true that some prison gangs will try to utilize religious services as cover for their criminal activities, but if volunteers are properly screened and services properly monitored, they can benefit inmates who are soul searching for a different attitude on life.

Religious Services and Spiritual Reawakening has saved thousands of people from gangs and a criminal lifestyle.

America’s Jails and Prisons are out of sight, out of mind, for most of the general public. Only when a riot and major incident happens do correctional facilities get a couple of minutes on the nightly news. Much of the general public gets their distorted views of prison life from shows like ‘OZ or Prison Break’, or movies like ‘Blood In, Blood Out and American History X’. Some shows like ‘Lockup’ and others showing jails often only show graphic violence inside or may even glorify it. Maybe more people should take personal tours of prisons and jails to talk with both inmates and staff to hear about real issues that could improve overall conditions?

Listening to experts on the inside and working better on the outside can reduce violence.

We are interested in your thoughts on this matter so please leave a comment on this Blog.

You can read more on this subject in “La Familia: The Family; Prison Gangs in America”:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Part 1: Prison Gang Violence in America

Serving time in prison and jail isn't always easy and it isn’t meant to be, but relatively few are supposed to get a "Death Sentence".  During the 1970-80s, there was a lot of violence in places like California which was in the middle of prison gang wars, or prison riots like Attica, NY, that left 43 dead, and a vicious riot in Santa Fe, NM, that left 33 dead.  From 1984-85, Texas prisons had 52 homicides.

In the 1980s, the overall murder rate in U.S. prisons was nearly five times as great as out in the free world.  Prison facilities were old, overcrowded, and not built with safety in mind; they were built mostly to just keep prisoners from escaping.  Because of the extreme violence in the 1980s, California created Security Housing Units (SHU) meant to keep inmates locked down for 22.5 hours or more a day and built with the input of corrections staff to increase safety.  
Some people describe SHU's as "solitary confinement" or "isolation cells", which is officially disputed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CCDR).  Convicts, and their supporters, claimed the SHU’s were cruel and unusual punishment that deprived them of freedom and social human contact.  In other words, they said that their constitutional rights were being violated.  In the summer of 2011, thousands of California inmates went on a lengthy hunger strike to protest conditions in the SHU's.  The protests eventually resulted in an agreement between inmates, lawyers, and CDCR prison officials to expedite reforms.  State prison officials say the most serious of those reforms are now in effect.  But, SHU inmates also wanted a faster way out.
For example, inmates were often given 5 year SHU terms or a specific sentence, based on having committed a crime such as murder while behind bars.  But 3,000+ inmates, particularly at the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, are serving "indefinite terms" because they've been tagged as prison gang members or disruptive group affiliates.  They got a SHU term based on "validation criteria" and the only way out for those inmates has been a process called "debriefing" where the inmate tells gang investigators everything they know.  When they do this they are often snitching on others about prison gang activities, thus adding new inmates for the SHU program.
Like a prior court order in California to racially integrate cell mates, some experts worry violence could go up in California and other states if the balance in power is shifted and disrupts the status quo among inmates and the gangs.
California is not the only place that has experienced prison violence.
Eleven prisoners have been killed so far in 2012 inside Texas prisons, the highest number since ten were slain in 1997, despite an overall decline in violence among the prison population statewide.  Officials say the increase is puzzling since overall violence, as well as sexual assaults and number of weapons found, have all declined in 2012.  Still, it is a far cry from 1985, when 27 Texas convicts were killed, and hundreds more injured in an outbreak of violence blamed on overcrowding and prison gangs.  Most staff that were present during past bloody incidents that led up to many of the current prison policies have long since retired.  But, we should never forget what caused such rigid inmate control programs to be implemented in the first place.
The growth of prison gangs was a direct threat to safety and security of all inmates and staff.  Street gang membership is often based on a "Jump In, Jump Out" basis.  Of course, getting beat out took a lot longer than getting beat in.  But, most prison gang members originally got in on a “Blood In, Blood Out” basis, meaning they had to kill to get in, and they main way out is to die.  Being a member of a prison gang is like being a member of an exclusive club who affect the lives of a lot of people.  A good analogy might be a Wall Street country club, although there are very few who are high rollers in the stock market, they have a great effect on the rest of us.  Prison gangs also bet and invest in their future.
Prison gangs get their orders out via Associates who pass the word on to youngsters who do a lot of their dirty work.  New recruits are constantly being tested and brought into these organizations.  In July, 2012, two Mexican Mafia (EME) members, Alberto "Beto" Vargas and Donald "Sluggo" Aguilar were arrested in Orange County's "Operation Black Flag".  Officials said nearly 60 people, many of them young Sureños, faced charges including racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotic and weapons sales.  

In late 2012, during an investigation known as "Operation Wicked Hand", 27 people including two teens, were indicted and accused of crimes such as conspiring to commit assault, extortion, home invasion, robbery, and drug trafficking in Ventura County, CA.  Made EME Carnal Martin "Maldito" Madrigal was named as the main shotcaller in that case.  La EME controls most Southern California Sureño street gangs even though some cops still doubt it.  In the recent case, law enforcement officials in Ventura County said the Mexican Mafia forced rival Sureño street gangs to work together to commit violent crimes something that they had not seen before.  

Not only are they involved in a lot of violence in prison, La EME is also very active in violence out on the street.  They pushed for young Sureños to wage war on Blacks, not just Crips and Bloods, but what amounts to a racial purge of Southland neighborhoods.  There is also a lot of violence that is directed towards rival Carnales and Camaradas of warring EME factions with a process known as "cleaning house" in and out of prison.
In November, 2012, a federal grand jury in Sacramento charged twenty people in the Nuestra Familia prison gang's Sacramento Regiment, including NF shotcaller Vidal "Spider" Fabela.  That same month, a high-ranking NF leader Alberto "Bird" Larez from the Salinas Regiment was arrested.  He was one of two high-ranking NF Captains who were released from federal prison in 2010. Larez and Henry "Happy" Cervantes from Lodi, CA, (and a former King Co. Jail inmate in Seattle) both faced life sentences in the FBI's sweeping Operation Black Widow conspiracy case in 2000.  Instead, they received 10-year sentences in a plea deal negotiated by the gang's leaders after problems surfaced with star prosecution witness, Daniel "Lizard" Hernandez due to his role in a murder at Cap's Saloon in Salinas.  Cervantes was arrested late last year and charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two men found in a burning Oakland apartment.  Both Cervantes and Fabela were previously housed at the Lewisburg federal prison and communicated system wide with NF and Norteños in prison as well as out on the street.
The new breed of prison gang members today are more tech savvy and they make brand new networks.  A recent Federal investigation into the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) uncovered cooperation between them and the Mexican Gulf Cartel.  ABT James "Flounder" Sharron confessed to serving as a go-between for the gang and the notorious drug trafficking organization.  Sharron also admitted to moving hundreds of pounds of meth over the border into Texas for distribution.  Prison gangs are also very hard to break up because they often reinvent themselves with new members and leaders.  In late 2012, the Feds once again claimed they dealt "a devastating blow to the leadership of ABT."  
However, despite numerous federal prosecutions anything short of the death penalty seems like little deterrent for groups and members that get more power from going to prison and doing time.  They also get a chance to meet during trials and communicate via their case lawyers. Several members of the AB Commission in California and their aligned counterparts in the Feds were targeted for a RICO case trial that started in 2006. One longtime AB shotcaller, Barry "Red Baron" Mills, allegedly ordered, authorized or carried out 15 murders and very likely has ordered even more since.  During the trial AB were able to catch up on penitentiary politics, find out who was still with the Brand, and who was out in bad standings. 

Authorities often claim that shipping members out of state takes them away from their power base, but the truth is it often expands it.  As they get shipped out of state, prison gangs like the AB recruit younger members or new gangs may form to emulate them or protect themselves from them.  It should be noted that the California AB started first and is separate from the ABT; they are similar in nature and name but generally don’t like the other faction. They may tolerate each other especially if it is a racial issue against Blacks.
A violent gang war also appears to have taken over parts of an Idaho private prison with some inmates contending prison officials ceded control to gang leaders in an effort to save money on staffing.  Officers who work private prisons are also generally not paid as well as in state facilities.  Eight inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center are currently suing the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), contending the company worked with a few powerful prison gangs to control the facility located south of Boise.   Inmates in the lawsuit point to investigative reports from the Idaho Department of Correction that suggest gangs like the Aryan Knights (AK) and the Severely Violent Criminals (SVC) were able to wrest control from staff members after prison officials began housing members of the same gangs together in some cellblocks to reduce violent clashes.
The Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) was the most political of all the CA prison gangs and the most dangerous towards Police and Corrections Officers in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. The BGF was started after the death of George Jackson when he was killed in a bloody escape attempt from San Quentin Prison's Adjustment Center-High Security Unit in August of 1971. The BGF was very active during the SHU hunger strikes and it has also been responsible for a lot of violent crime in the state of Maryland during recent years.
The Texas Syndicate (TS) officially formed at San Quentin and Folsom Prison during the early 1970s.  While the TS prison gang was small, they were the most feared on the yard because of their propensity for violence and serious assaults.  Prison gangs like the TS are still responsible for a lot of violence today.  Even more so are the births of newer gangs like the "Tangos" which are homeboy cliques from Texas.
Next blog post we will talk about possible remedies to help deal with prison gang violence and current efforts to try and break the cycle of membership.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Washington's I-502 Marijuana Reform Initiative Issues

As most of you know by now, Washington State passed the I-502 "marijuana reform initiative” legalizing possession of marijuana under one ounce starting 12/6/12.  Many people have been confused about this law.  It is still currently illegal to purchase marijuana unless you have a “green card” for medical reasons.  It is still unknown at the time of this printing how the federal government will respond to the law’s passage.  Seventeen other states and Washington, D.C., have also eased laws on marijuana which means more states could go the way of Washington and Colorado in the near future.  Regardless of what happens, we will briefly examine marijuana use in this country, why it was outlawed, how the recent state law is opposed to federal law, and how it may affect things both in this country and in Mexico, meaning politics, policing, product distribution, and criminal organizations.  I am not pushing for or against the measure, just discussing some of the related issues.   
Of course, I am not the only one doing so, Seattle Police Department’s Blog on this subject has gone viral:
A little background information if you don’t already toke up:  Hemp is the plant from which marijuana comes from and has been grown for thousands of years.  One variety of hemp, Cannabis Sativa produces mild hallucinogenic effects and has often been used in this country as a recreational drug.  Some claim it also has medicinal use, especially for nausea.  The main chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is what gives Cannabis Sativa its dreamy effect. There are also other strains like Cannabis Indica.  The effects of Sativa are well known for its cerebral high, hence it is often used in the daytime, while Indica is known for its sedative effects in products like tea and is preferred by many users at night.
Aside from a subjective change in perception, most notably a mellow mood, the most common short-term physical and neurological effects can include increased heart rate, paranoia, increased appetite and consumption of food, lowered blood pressure, impairment of short-term memory, psychomotor skills, and concentration.  People who smoke marijuana can also have impaired vision, drooping eyes, and “red eye”.  Long-term effects are not clear as few long-term studies have been done.  There are no known deaths attributed directly to marijuana usage, and there is no physical withdrawal, although there may be psychological withdrawal problems.
Regulations and restrictions on U.S. sales of Cannabis Sativa as a drug began in the mid-1800s.  Increased restrictions and labeling of marijuana as a poison began in many states from 1906 onward.  Outright prohibitions began in the 1920s.  By the mid-1930s, Cannabis Sativa was regulated as a drug in every state, including thirty-five states that adopted the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act.  This law was enacted after many people became alarmed over increased marijuana usage in the U.S. and after the movie “Reefer Madness” came out in 1936.
The United Nations estimates there is frequent consumption of marijuana by about 5% of the world’s population. This has been mostly for medicinal use, while in the United States rates are believed to be significantly higher with more recreational smokers.  It is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world but is still illegal in most countries. Canada, Spain, Netherlands, and Austria have legalized some forms of Cannabis for medicinal use.  The U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana for any medical condition or disease, largely because the FDA claims good quality scientific evidence for its use from studies is currently lacking.
One big problem with marijuana dispensaries in the U.S. is absence of uniform regulations.  There are also a lot of documented robberies, and probably even more undocumented robberies, of licensed and unlicensed marijuana grow ops in the U.S.  Many times these “dope rips” are committed by street gang members as few of these operations have good security.  For years, “B.C. Bud” from the greater area of Vancouver, Canada, has been sought by local users and it is often shown on the front covers of magazines such as “High Times”. Recently, Southeast Asian Organized Crime Groups have set up large "B.C. Bud" grow operations, often in ranch style homes in the Northwest.  Of course, with so many users and with marijuana still being illegal for the most part, Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) also provide supply for the demand, sometimes even growing it on this side of the border via U.S. Forest Lands.  
During arguments for the passage of I-502, many people, including some high profile people who have worked in the criminal justice system, said that the law would help undermine the notoriously ruthless Mexican Drug Cartels and cut into the huge profits that allow them to exist.  Some experts estimate the money made by Mexican DTOs to be over $40 billion per year. But, some people are arguing legalization of marijuana will have little effect:
Outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon states, “It has become necessary to analyze in depth the implications for public policy and health in our nations emerging from the state and local moves to allow the legal production, consumption and distribution of marijuana in some countries of our continent.”  Some Mexican politicians have stated that they may now turn a blind eye towards big marijuana grow operations in Mexico, which likely means bigger profits for large scale drug organizations like the Zetas and Sinaloa Cartels.  This could also mean that other narcotics, such as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, could get a free pass at the Mexican border.  In great part to please the United States during his six year term, outgoing Mexican President Calderon waged a hard fought war against the drug cartels with more results than all of the previous Mexican administrations put together.  Calderon did so at great cost to Mexican civilian lives, the police, and military.
With the remaining 48 states prohibiting marijuana today, there could still be huge future profits for Mexican marijuana importers.  "While the criminal organizations that are a threat to both of our countries make a lot of money off of heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine, the vast majority of their money to buy guns, bribe, corrupt and destroy lives is from marijuana", said John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.  Others critics argue that if marijuana was made legal across the entire United States, criminal groups would just focus on other illegal contraband.  Perhaps they would build more labs to create new, more addicting, and more dangerous drugs?  American street gangs would still distribute other illegal drugs, guns, and remain involved in other crimes.
Mexican officials have grown frustrated with the mixed messages, “It seems to me that we should move to authorize exports,” said Cesar Duarte, governor of the violence-plagued State of Chihuahua, which includes Ciudad Juarez. “We could therefore propose organizing production for export, and with it no longer being illegal, we would have control over a business which today is run by criminals. And which finances criminals.”
Supporters of I-502 helped convince a majority of voters to pass it by saying the measure could raise over $500 million in tax revenue for cash strapped state coffers.  Some of that money is supposed to be used to help fight violent crime.  The Washington State Liquor Control Board would be the regulatory body of marijuana, however; it would still be illegal for youth under 21 to purchase it.  Some people have argued that with legalization youth may be more prone to experimentation with other drugs and there’s no guarantee any money will go towards treatment:
Reelected President Barack Obama’s administration so far has rejected calls from across Latin America, including the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, for drug decriminalization as a means to crimp cartel profits and stop gangland violence.  “It’s worth discussing, but there is no way the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy”, Vice President Joe Biden said during a March, 2012, visit to Mexico City.
There are many who argue that our drug laws and the drug war have not worked.  Like alcohol prohibition in the last century, they say marijuana prohibition has helped fuel violent crime across our country.  Perhaps it is time to reexamine policy on these matters, but it should be done on a nationwide basis, taking into account police concerns, border security, schools, medical needs, and other stakeholders to build a consistent and safe system for all of our citizens.    

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will Federal Designation of Mara Salvatrucha as a Criminal Organization Really Break the Violent Transnational Gang?

A couple of weeks ago, the Feds announced a new crackdown on the Mara Salvatrucha as being a “criminal organization”.  It is the first time that a street gang has received such a designation from the government.  This new effort gives the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze financial assets of MS members and bars banks from engaging in any transactions with members of the group.
On the surface, this order against the transnational MS gang may sound like a major victory against organized crime, but the MS gang usually wires money in small amounts via low key Latino stores and outlets or launders money out of the country in other ways often via non-gang involved couriers.  In L.A., the Salvadoran and Latino community have expressed concern the order may stifle and tarnish the reputation of law abiding businesses or people suspected, but not proven, to have ties to MS.   Officials have said the move is designed to reduce the flow of gang money within the United States and across our borders.  Authorities believe money generated by MS clicas here is often funneled back to the group's leadership in El Salvador as well as other countries where they are very active like Honduras and Guatemala.
MS was originally predominately Salvadoran and MS members were treated as outsiders by the Mexican/Chicano gangs of L.A.’s Westside.  About 1994, they made a truce with the Mexican Mafia, also called La EME, and used MS13 as a sign of loyalty.  Most Southern California Hispanic gangs commonly referred to as Sureños use the code number 13 for the 13th letter of the alphabet “M” or “EME” in Spanish.  MS even paid taxes to La EME and several MS members were considered Camaradas or EME Associates.  But, the gang has always been looked down upon by much larger L.A. gangs such as Eighteenth Street or Florencia 13.  Recently some MS have advised members, especially ones who live far away from L.A. and further away from the rath of La EME, to drop the 13 again.  At one time, most MS had to get a MS or MS13 tattoo to be recognized as being in la clica, now some MS are refraining from doing so in an attempt to evade law enforcement detection.    
Various MS clicas often do network with each other, but MS is set up more horizontal than the vertical nature of traditional organized crime.  Each clica is run by a Shotcaller known as a “Ranflero”.  MS is believed to have as many as 30,000 members worldwide with approximately 8,000 operating within the U.S.  In places like L.A. and Seattle, MS actually has less influence than they did 10 years ago, but is still a viable threat on the East Coast.  Newly organized MS cells in El Salvador soon established beachheads on the East Coast, especially in suburbs of northern Virginia and Maryland.  Many younger generation MS that currently live on the East Coast have never even been to L.A. which was the gang’s birthplace in the early 1980s.
In great part due to deportations, Central American MS clicas have far greater influence on society and operate in more sophisticated ways than most groups there.  It has been reported that older veterano MS in Central America are now dressing more like business men and have diversified from mainly dealing drugs, into ventures like kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, sex trafficking young girls, working as hired assassins, and other forms of racketeering.  MS in Central America do not hesitate to use vicious machete attacks, dismember their victims, and commit violent rapes.  The gang’s informal motto is “Mata, Controla, y Viola” (Kill, Control, and Rape).  MS in Central America also have far greater control in jails and prisons then they do in the United States.
There have been past documented reports of some MS members working for drug cartels like the Zetas.  But now some experts fear there may be an alliance between the violent cartel and the violent street gang.  Zetas have branched out from their original turf in northeast Mexico in states like Tamaulipas and expanded down to Chiapas and even into Guatemala.  A merger with MS would make sense to move drugs north through Mexican corridors and into the U.S. as Zetas move most of their dope loads via the Tex-Mex border and up through the Mid-West and East Coast.
This alliance was recently revealed by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  In a report written by Adam Elkus and John P. Sullivan they stated, “The relationship between the Zetas and MS-13 is an alliance, and one that increases the Zetas’ ability to leverage new skills and markets, exploit gaps and vacuums, and extend their reach...It should be understood that MS-13 and the Zetas joining together is not equivalent to a signed treaty that facilitates formal cooperation between two groups...It is not known how such a deal was conducted, but it is sure to be something other than a literal declaration of fealty.”
Gangs are very competitive to protect their reputation and in fighting for their share of the drug market and other criminal enterprises.  Another side effect of this competition may be that the rival Barrio Diesiocho, also known as 18th Street, may form an alliance with “Chapo” Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel.  The 18th Street gang is far bigger than MS on the West Coast and the Sinaloans control most of the drug trade on the West Coast of Mexico so 18th Street may see such an arrangement as an ideal "win-win situation"?  
On the positive side, the new U.S. order does give law enforcement another tool to disrupt MS activities.
You can read more about MS and 18th Street in the new book BEST:

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Death of Zetas Leader "El Lazca"

On October 7, 2012, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano, aka "El Lazca/Z-3", the overall leader of Los Zetas was killed. He died after being shot six or seven times during confrontations that he and bodyguards had with members of the Mexican Marines which started in Progreso and ended near the town of Sabinas, State of Coahuila, Mexico. An official report states that a Zeta convoy of vehicles began launching grenades at the patrol of Marines at approximately 1:30 p.m. Three separate gun battles erupted during the day that ultimately led to the death of El Lazca. Mexican officials state that Miguel Treviño-Morales, aka “El Z-40”, stole the body of El Lazca from the Garcia Funeral Home in Sabinas. During a press conference, Coahuila State Prosecutor Homero Ramos-Garcia confirmed that a group of armed men stole the body of El Lazca and his bodyguard from the morgue and took them away in a stolen Hearse. Some people say this was a Zeta military code of “leave no man behind”. The Mexican government states it did not know initially who it had killed.

Others, including many in the U.S. government, highly doubt it?

Many people believe it was Z-40 himself who gave El Lazca up to authorities and which led to his untimely death. Z-40's detractors also accuse him of giving up info on rival drug cartel members, as well as fellow Zetas including Ivan Velazquez-Caballero, aka “Z-50/El Taliban”. He was captured in September, 2012, and was third in command of the Zetas. El Taliban and Z-40 had been trading death threats and accusations of being Zeta traitors (and far worse names) back and forth. This earned Treviño-Morales another moniker by his enemies as being “El Judas”.  

Los Zetas were renegades of the Mexican Army and originally hired as an armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, but they broke away in 2010. The “Z” organization has a vast network of drug suppliers from Central America to the northeastern Mexican border. Los Zetas not only traffic in drugs, but control kidnapping gangs, extortionists of businesses and undocumented migrants. They are also involved in the pirate merchandise such as music CDs, DVDs, and clothing. Most of the original Zetas have been killed or are in custody, but they train younger Zetitas who compose hundreds of cells, known as stakes, with 20 gunmen each. Each group has a local chief and in turn it receives orders from a regional manager who reports to Z-40. Zetas have been known to recruit teens and gang members to work for them. For instance, Omar Martín Estrada Luna, known as "El Kilo", grew up in the Yakima, WA, area and was a Norteño. Gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street, Florencia 13, and West Side Pomona 13 may also have ties to cartels: Zetas control most of the drug smuggling corridors east of the Big Bend, TX, area. The Sinaloans control most of the area west of it, including taking over much of the Juarez Cartel's area as well as Sonora and Baja borders.   

Under outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon's six-year offensive an impressive number of Cartel leaders have been caught or killed including: Sinaloa Cartel’s Ignacio “El Nacho” Coronel (dead), and captured Sinaloa Cartel Vicente “Vicentillo” Zambada, Jesus “El Rey” Zambada, several members of the Arellano-Felix Organization (Tijuana Cartel), many members of the Juarez Cartel, as well as many members of the Beltran-Leyva Organization who broke off from the Sinaloans. The Gulf Cartel has also been greatly diminished by arrests, deaths, and by Zeta defections.

Unfortunately, the busts that have weakened some cartels have also emboldened new ones like the Knights Templar who are an offshoot of La Familia Michoacana. The Cartel de Jalisco New Generation also emerged in 2007 after the death of Sinaloa Cartel leader Ignacio Coronel. If there are further arrests of Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel members violence could spread even more?  

The death of “El Lazca” now leaves Los Zetas firmly in the control of Miguel Treviño-Morales (Z-40) and his brother Alejandro Treviño-Morales (L-42/Omar). As stated on this Blog last May, , Zetas and their rivals of the Pacific/Sinaloa Cartel are now the two biggest cartels in the country. The Sinaloa Cartel of “Chapo” Guzman has also been accused of giving up info to the government to take out the competition. Some believe that Z-40 and Chapo might also engage in one final battle for control of all of Mexico.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled Mexico for almost three quarters of a century took power back with the 2012 Mexican Presidential Election of Enrique Peña-Nieto. It remains to be seen how Peña-Nieto’s government will handle corruption that prior PRI officials were so notorious for and better solve the drug cartel violence that has left more than 55,000 dead in the last six years.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Book on Mexican Mafia Case & An Injustice to Cops

“In the annals of warfare, it is the consensus of historians that civil wars are more vicious and brutal than foreign wars. Sometimes during the course of living in close proximity to fellow citizens, differences in opinion, in values, in ideology -- or even the pursuit of power -- will boil over into a conflagration in which the aftereffects last long beyond the initial conflict. To some degree The Traffic Stop emulates that. In the never ending war between law enforcers and law breakers, sometimes the more vicious enemies are the ones sworn to serve as our allies and protectors, such as it is ….This is where The Traffic Stop begins.” - Mike Beringhele, Former CA Gang Task Force Member and Federal Agent

I have known Robert “Moco” Morrill professionally and personally for a long time and for the last 10 years I have heard every minute detail about the Traffic Stop. For many of those who will read it, will say, "could this really happen?" But for those in law enforcement who have worked major criminals for any length of time will tell you that sooner or later you will find yourself in some kind of controversy. This book addresses that topic and more. Read it! - Frank "Paco" Marcell, Former Undercover Narcotics Officer and Security Threat Group Manger, Mult. SW U.S. Correctional Facilities

This book follows up on Mr. Morrill's first book on the Mexican Mafia. What Officer Morrill thought was going to be a routine traffic stop proves there is no such thing, any stop can be dangerous, and any encounter with criminals can have repercussions long after an incident. Caught in the middle of a department war over who would be Chief and who would get promoted, justice took a back seat to personal politics. Mr. Morrill and his partner ended up being scapegoats accused of bungling the case. Tried in court, they both were eventually able to clear their names legally, but the damage to their careers had already been done. A must read for anybody interested in the criminal justice system! – Gabe Morales, Author, Trainer, Consultant

“In 1977 on a Southern California street, a city police officer makes what he believes to be a routine traffic stop. It is anything but routine. Unknown to him, this officer is now face-to-face with two Mexican Mafia assassins … on parole and armed. With the gang members in custody for booking on parole violation, a tangled web of criminal activity and corruption begins to emerge. Month-by-month, strand by strand, police investigators unravel a twisted mass of corruption, crime and murder that ultimately ensnares not only gang members and former felons, but implicates elected and appointed local and state officials. This single traffic stop and its subsequent shock waves would pit members of law enforcement against one another and lead to incriminations reaching the highest levels of state government.”

You can order Mr. Morrill's book on 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The U.S. School to Prison Pipeline

I recently attended a “Examining the School to Prison Pipeline” seminar in Burien, WA. The Schools to Prison Pipeline (STPP) is often described as a nationwide system of local, state, and federal education as well as public safety policies that push students out of school and into the criminal justice system. The STPP philosophy states that the entire U.S. system disproportionately targets youth of color and youth with disabilities. It also states that inequities such as school discipline, policing practices, high-stakes testing, wealth and healthcare distribution, school grading systems, and the prison-industrial complex all contribute to the Pipeline. This seminar was sponsored by a number of groups including the WA State Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)

The seminar I attended brought up that STPP operates both directly and indirectly. Directly, schools send students into the Pipeline through zero tolerance policies and often call police over minor disciplinary incidents. School rules are often enforced through school security measures, metal detectors, pat-downs and frisks, arrests, and referrals to the juvenile justice system. Schools that are pressured to raise graduation rates and testing numbers can sometimes improve their statistics by pushing out low-performing students into GED programs or the juvenile justice system. Indirectly, STPP states that schools may push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from the learning environment and isolating them from peers through suspension, expulsion, ineffective retention policies, transfers, and high-stakes testing requirements.

Many speakers with impressive credentials in the educational field and in social work were present. There was one doctor; however, who stated that the prison industrial complex is growing. Actually, growth in the U.S. prison system has slowed down, and in many cases been cut dramatically as in California. After several decades of rapid, steady growth, California’s state prison population peaked at 173,000 in 2006, as of this writing the inmate population is under 120,000 and is forecasted to drop even lower. See:  The prison population locked up in Washington State-DOC has also decreased slightly:   Often these drops in population are because of court orders to reduce overcrowding and/or due to the poor economic situation that has affected most state and local governments which forced them to cut back in many areas including corrections. I think it is important to be accurate. What was true a few years ago may not be true today; nevertheless, the seminar discussed many important issues effecting juvenile justice and education.

The need for Early At-Risk Student Intervention was discussed. Special Ed students are federally mandated to get extra one on one help, but not all students of color who are often from poorly funded schools and not in Special Ed. It was noted that in Washington State students have a state constitutional right to an education and that many are having their rights violated. A number was thrown out that only 15% of students in Juvenile lock-up get their GED. While this is a low rate, the speaker neglected to state that in Washington State few juveniles are locked up long enough to get their GED while incarcerated.

It was brought up that curriculum needs to be multi-cultural. I myself as a high school student was involved in protests during the 1970s over books that were totally written from a European and European American standpoint. These protests included a case where we locked the Principle out until we got a social study book that had 1 page about Native Americans, 1 page on how Asians helped build America, 1 page on how Hispanics and Cesar Chavez help feed America, and about half dozen pages on Black History out of 300 some pages. We saw this as a victory and an improvement. While I agree a lot more work has to be done today, I don’t think it is financially responsible or logistically a good idea to have separate race history books. Students should feel all of their ancestors contributed to American society, white kids should not feel blame for slavery that their great great-grand parents may have participated in. There should be productive discussion and lessons on past atrocities in the U.S. and other parts of the world, but students should all come out more united, not more divided.

I also attended a session on “Evidence Based & Promising Practices” in the juvenile justice system. The program presented was the “Raising Our Youth As Leaders” (ROYAL) program out of King County, WA:  This program has been described as being one of the more effective programs in the area and I heard a lot about its good work with youth. Today the “buzz word” with juvenile programs is “evidence based”. In order to get certification it costs tens of thousands of dollars to be evaluated and get an approved designation that qualifies a program for government grants. Some businesses and individuals are making a lot of money today off of the “Evidenced Practices” numbers game and on administrative costs while less is seen directly helping youth! While there has been a past problem of some programs being funded with lack of data and not showing any real results, numbers can be crunched, stats can still be skewed. See my earlier Blog post:  Do Anti-Gang Violence Programs Work?   
Other sessions examined were Disproportionality of School Discipline, Student Stress, the H.O.P.E. Faith-based program by Louis Guiden , Structural/Institutional Racism, Aggression Replacement Therapy (ART), as well as other discussion panels. There was a lot of blaming the system, some which may have merit, but I heard very few seminar attendees wanting to teach the 3 R’s I often talk about: Respect, Responsibility, and Reason. I also heard a lot about government and school dependence to solve problems. I heard very little about the parent's role. There was a lot of talk about reforming the school system but I wondered where is all the money for this and where is the overall action plan? I heard no talk about Teachers Unions and getting their buy in? What about the lack of meeting goals set forth in the "No Child Left Behind Act? My understanding is the Washington Assessment of Learning (WASL) was changed due to future forecasts that too few students would be able to graduate? 

There was a “Youth Voice” discussion panel session of former offenders, some former gang members, that was awesome! A half dozen young men of color were very impressive with their cognitive and speaking abilities over the multitude of problems that youth face today. They all sounded very determined to succeed and not let the system or any individual stop them from achieving their goals. Maybe adults should listen more to our young people and give more encouragement to solve their own problems rather than coming up with solutions we think might help them??????    

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Meet the Book Authors of "BEST-Barrio Eighteenth Street, Mara Salvatrucha, and Other Sureño Gangs Across America"


by Co-Author Andrew Eways

How exactly did I get here?  How is it that I’m sitting in front of my computer working on a non-fiction book about Latino gangs?  I’ve asked myself these questions almost daily for more than a year now and I’m still not sure I know the answers.

I was born on an Army base in Europe, the youngest of three children.  At that time, my father was an officer in the United States Army and my mother was a secretary.  I grew up with a stable home, loving parents and positive role models.  I was the furthest thing from someone who had to find their way out of unfortunate circumstances; no substance abuse, no gang involvement, no broken home; and I have never lost sight of how fortunate I am.

As a child I loved to lose myself in television shows and movies, to immerse myself in the stories someone had created.  This gave birth to my two greatest passions; the two biggest influences in my life; my career in law enforcement and my lifelong study of the martial arts.  From Adam-12 in my childhood to Southland in my forties, I have always enjoyed police dramas.  In hindsight, I think I was destined to be a police officer.  Then in 1994, my law enforcement career began, and so did my introduction to the world of gangs.  First, several students at a local high school formed a rather short-lived white supremacist gang while, on the other side of my jurisdiction, students at another high school formed a gang based loosely on the Crips.  Within a few years while I was serving as a detective, a member of the Four Corner Hustlers from Colorado began committing armed robberies – including at least two bank robberies – while hiding in Maryland.  Before I could develop enough evidence to prosecute him, though, he was extradited back to Colorado where he served time in prison, returned to his gang, and ultimately died a violent death.  As the years of my career passed, I found myself crossing paths with gang members more and more frequently Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Skinheads, Latin Kings and many, many more.  But the gangsters that I found myself in contact with more than any others were the Sureños, an umbrella group of gangs that started in Southern California and spread across the country and beyond. 

From 1997 to 2011, my work with gangs and ethnic organized crime groups was almost constant.  I was assigned to my department’s Criminal Investigation Division, Homeland Security Unit, Organized Crime Division, and Gang Enforcement Unit.  No matter what my assignment was, it inevitably involved Sureño gang members.  Members of Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street, Florencia, Tepa, Lennox, Inglewood, Lomas, Venice – so many gangsters from places I didn’t know before, but places I know now.  My desire to learn led me to study them, to learn their history and traditions.  I took every class available, interviewed every gang member I could, cultivated long-term informants who could provide me an inside look at gang life.  I wanted to learn which gangs were rivals, what crimes each was known for, how to interpret their tattoos and graffiti; everything about them.  Much like my practice of martial arts, I found myself with a constant need to learn something.  But learning wasn’t my only job function, I also needed to enforce the law and do my part to help curb gang violence.  From street-level anti-gang operations to major, multi-jurisdictional investigations, I have been involved in virtually every aspect of anti-gang work as part of various units, teams and task forces.  I continued to learn from gang professionals like Retired NYPD Sergeant Lou Savelli, Retired LAPD Detective Tony Moreno, Inmate Classifications-Gang Specialist and co-author Gabriel Morales, and many, many others. 

Like them, I began sharing by knowledge of gangs with other law enforcement professionals, first in my department’s academy, then throughout the region, and eventually across the country.  I continue to do so today.  And everywhere I go – from Florida to California – one thing never changes.  Police officers, correctional officers, and other members of the criminal justice system from coast to coast are coming in contact with Sureño gangs.

Almost twenty years since I graduated from the Maryland State Police Academy, I find myself starting a new journey.  I now live in Colorado and work for a police department in the Denver Metropolitan area, an area with a large population of Sureño gang members; many of whom came to the area from Southern California and brought their gangs with them.  I realize that apart from the need to teach criminal justice professionals about gang investigations, the public in general needs to be educated about gangs too.  Prevention and intervention efforts require knowledge and recognition of the early warning signs, so communities can take action to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs.  Parents, teachers, public officials; everyone plays an important part in protecting their community from gang violence.  In 2010, during a discussion of this very topic with my friend Gabriel Morales, the idea to co-write this book was born.  We talked about something that could be of use to police officers, correctional officers, parole agents, parents, teachers, and anyone else who comes in contact with Sureño gang members.

This book represents the efforts of two gang professionals sharing their knowledge with both criminal justice professionals and civilians so that everyone involved can work together to combat gang violence and intervene before young people are tempted to join gangs.  We hope you will learn something from it, then take that knowledge and become a part of the solution.

by Co-Author Gabriel Morales

When Andy Eways approached me about writing a book on Sureño gangs, I didn’t take much time to arrive at my decision, I jumped at the chance. Previously, I had done a lot of research on Latino gangs and shared personal insights of my experiences in my book “Varrio Warfare: Violence in the Latino Community”. My second book, “La Familia: Prison Gangs in America” covered the parent prison gang of the Sureños, La EME, also known as the Mexican Mafia as well as other Security Threat Groups. I also worked on a major publication on Sureños for the Rocky Mountain Information Network (RMIN)  gang profiles of Sureños I’d encountered in my approximately ten years working in California. Prior to its dissolution I had also been asked by the President of the National Major Gang Task Force, Daryl Vigil, if I’d be interested working on a project covering Sureño gangs.

I am the Founder and current Advisor for the International Latino Gang Investigators Association (ILGIA). This group conducts training, workshops, conferences, news articles, and criminal justice networking. I worked with other groups on various projects dealing with Latino gangs.  In my Police and Corrections Academy classes there were always a lot of questions and interest about Sureño gangs. There were also a lot of misconceptions about gangs that I found in my work with non-criminal justice personnel and a growing plea for more information dealing with them, especially Sureño gangs.      

As I traveled across the country it became fairly obvious that many law enforcement, corrections, and general public considered the Sureños to be their fastest growing gang problem and/or their worst gang problem. Latino population growth has been very fast in the last hundred years, especially Mexican immigration. I saw this first hand in Washington State and in California. Unfortunately, a small but often very violent percentage were gang members, and more often than not they were Sureños.

We hope this book helps better educate you on the issues that gangs like Eighteenth Street, Mara Salvatrucha, and other Sureño gangs across America present. We also hope it helps all of us arrive at better solutions in dealing with the myriad of gang related issues you may encounter. I personally hope it will help deter youth from joining gangs, live a life free of crime, and help to foster an environment that makes them want to become more productive citizens in these United States of America.

You can purchase "BEST-Barrio Eighteenth Street, Mara Salvatrucha, and Other Sureños Across America" at: