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”: