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Women tend to not have the same aggressive social skills that men in prison tend to exhibit. Further, the prison environment tends to emphasize the desire to “be a man” and also denigrates the role of women as inferior. This means that women were not widely accepted among correctional officers and/or inmates. Since women have become integrated into the correctional industry, the male-oriented subculture has been weakened. The introduction of women into the security ranks, along with the inclusion of diverse minority groups, the professionalization of corrections, and the proliferation of prison gangs, has eroded the influence of the male-dominated and male-oriented convict code. While the convict code still exists and has its adherents, it is no longer considered a primary standard of behavior in many prison facilities but instead has become more of an ideal.


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As indicated earlier in this chapter, the convict code, though still alive, is not universally found in all institu- tions, and newer generations of inmates do not seem to stay as loyal to the code as do prior generations. The professionalization of the corrections field has also limited the effectiveness of the convict code (Mobley, 2011). Authorities’ unwillingness to allow inmates to enforce the convict code and to essentially police them- selves (as with the building tender system discussed in prior chapters) has removed an important element of power from inmate groups (Mobley, 2011). The enforcement of rules through violence is no longer tacitly or implicitly permitted as it once was among prison guards (Mobley, 2011). Inmates who seek to enforce this code now get punished in some institutions and/or transferred as a means to disrupt their power.

The growing number of institutions in most state prison systems has enhanced the trend toward professionalization in corrections (Mobley, 2011). This has likewise resulted in more interest in this

Video Link 10.3 Learn more about the

challenges faced by female correctional officers.

Journal Article Link 10.3 Read about the legitimacy

and authority of correctional officers.

Prison Tour Video Link 10.4 Watch an interview with a

female correctional officer.



Chapter 10: Prison Subculture and Prison Gang Influence 253

area of employment, particularly in 2009 and beyond where a depressed economy has made this area of employment more desirable for many of the working and middle class. Bureaucratic tendencies to cen- tralize expanding prison systems and staff institutions with better-trained personnel stem largely from the same causes that have boosted incidences of snitching among the younger generation of inmates (Mobley, 2011). The criminalization of drug use during the 1990s and the prioritization of law enforce- ment resources against drugs—known as the War on Drugs—are the primary factors that have influ- enced prison systems to grow and professionalize, and have also aided in the slow but sure decline of the convict code within the inmate subculture (Mobley, 2011).


Gang members are another group that tends to not adhere strictly to the tenets of the convict code (Mobley, 2011). This is particularly true among Latino and African American gangs. African American and Latino American gangs, which are the majority racial lineages represented among prison gangs, tend to view prison stints as just another part of the criminal lifestyle. As such, they have no true use for the convict code since it is their gang family who will protect them, not their reputation according to the convict code. Their alliances and their allegiance are uniformly tied to outside gangs that operate within prison walls (Mobley, 2011). So many young inner-city African American males and young Latino American males have been incarcerated that they are able to find some of their homeboys or hombres in nearly and correctional facility within their state. (Mobley, 2011) Thus, the young gang member does not, in actuality, need to trouble himself with adapting to the prison subculture (Mobley, 2011).

With their homeboys, gangsters comprise a distinct subculture whether on the street or in prison (Mobley, 2011). They “look out for” one another and protect each other, living in a nearly familial lifestyle. Few African American gang members speak to inmates outside of their gang “set,” at least about anything of substance. Though most would claim that they do not snitch to “the man,” and most would say that they just wish to do their own time, their true loyalty is to their gang family. Gang members “run with their road dogs” from “the hood” and meet up with each other in prison, forming bonds and making plans for when they reunite in their respective communities, the turf for their street gang activity (Mobley, 2011). This constant cycle, in and out of prison, creates a seamless form of support for many gang members.


It is perhaps the emergence of gang life that has been the most significant development within prison sub- cultures throughout various state systems. In many texts on prisons and/or the world of corrections, there is a section on prison gangs. In most cases, these texts tend to present gang membership as isolated to the prison environment, with little emphasis on the notion that gang membership is permeable, found inside and outside the prison. Thus, while inmates may be gang members inside the prison, they do not simply discard membership once their sentence is served or when they are paroled out into society. Rather, their membership continues, and, in many cases, they will continue to answer to leadership who may still be locked up in prison. In other cases, they may be required to report to other leaders on the outside of the prison walls who will continue criminal work on behalf of the gang, plying their criminal trade on the streets and in broader society.

Conversely, many prison gang members were prior street gang members. Thus, an offender may engage in street gang criminal activity for a number of years, with short stints in jail being frequent. As noted earlier in this chapter, few inmates in state prison systems are locked up with long-term sentences for their first offense; rather they have typically committed several “priors” before that point, and some may have never even been detected by outside law enforcement. During their activity on the streets, these offenders will develop a reputation, particularly within their gang or their area of

Video Link 10.4 Watch a video about prison gangs.



254 Introduction to Corrections

operation (if in an urban or a suburban setting) and will develop associations with other gang mem- bers. Once they finally do end up with a long-term sentence in a state facility, they have usually already embedded themselves within the gang structure on the outside that includes members who have been locked up inside the prison system.

In some cases, those doing state time may be the upper leadership of the street gang; these members will tend to direct prison gang activities internally while “calling the shots” for members on the outside. The term shot caller refers to these inmates and/or gang members who dictate what members will do within the gang hierarchy. The point to all of this is that a gang’s membership does not begin or end with the prison walls. Rather, the prison walls are simply a feature that modern- day gangs must contend with—an obstacle that increases the overhead to conducting criminal enterprise.

Because gang membership is porous in nature, social researchers can only vaguely determine likely gang growth both inside the prison and outside the prison. In 1998, there were an estimated 780,000 gang members across the nation. A large proportion of these gang members also served time behind bars at one point or another throughout their criminal career. In fact, in some prison systems, such as the Texas prison system, gangs nearly controlled the prison system and even controlled many of the staff that worked within the system through various forms of friendships or occasional intimidation, all designed to manipulate staff within the organization.

Thus, prison gangs in some state systems were both persuasive and very powerful Potential recruits for existing prison gangs enter prison with natural feelings of anxiety and quickly learn the value of having some form of affiliation. Indeed, inmates without the protection of affiliation are likely to be the target of other inmates who are members of a gang. Likewise, this affiliation tends to be based along racial allegiances. In fact, most prison gang membership is strictly defined by the race of the member.

Traditional prison gangs include, but are not limited to, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Mexican Mafia, La Nuestra Familia, Black Guerilla Family, Texas Syndicate, and the Mexikanemi. Further, a confluence of street gangs has permeated several prison systems, particularly in California, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Florida. Common street gangs found in prisons are the Crips and the Bloods. In the Chicago area, most street gangs are aligned with either the Folk Nation or the People Nation. The Folks include notori- ous street gangs such as the Gangster Disciples and the Two Sixers (Fleisher & Rison, 1999). The People include groups such as the Latin Kings and the Vice Lords (Fleisher & Rison, 1999). Historically speak- ing, the main distinction between prison gangs and street gangs has been the internal structure and the leadership style of the gang (Fleisher & Rison, 1999). However, over time this distinction has become so blurred as to be meaningless in the offender world (Fleisher & Rison, 1999). In the correctional environ- ment of today, the Gangster Disciples and Latin Kings, classic street gangs, are just as influential and powerful as are the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate (Fleisher & Rison, 1999). More telling is the fact that the Mexican Mafia, the Aryan Brotherhood, and even emerging local groups such as the Barrio Aztecas have become just as formidable in their own respective ethnic and/or culturally based neighbor- hoods or regions. Thus, both types of gangs have become “cross-pollinated” and are fully operational in both sectors of the criminal world. Indeed, it is sometimes common for leaders of the gang to be incarcer- ated, all the while giving orders for various actions to members who are still outside the prison operating within the community. For this text, this is effectively gang cross-pollination, when the gang has developed such power and influence as to be equally effective regardless of whether its leadership is inside or outside of the prison walls.

When discussing gangs that are cross-pollinated, the term security threat group (STG) will be used to describe a gang that possesses the following high-functioning group and organizational characteristics:

1. Prison and street affiliation is based on race, ethnicity, geography, ideology, or any combination of these or other similar factors (Fleisher, 2008, p. 356).

2. Members seek protection from other gang members inside and outside the prison, as well as insulation from law enforcement detection (use of safe houses when wanted).

Audio Link 10.3 Learn more about the prison

violence committed by the Aryan Brotherhood.



Chapter 10: Prison Subculture and Prison Gang Influence 255

3. Members will mutually take care of one another’s family members, at least minimally, while the member is locked up since this is an expected overhead cost in the organization.

4. The group’s mission integrates an economic objective, and uses some form of illicit industry such as drug trafficking to fulfill the economic necessities to carry forward other stated objec- tives (Fleisher, 2008). The use of violence or the threat of violence is a common tool in meeting these economic objectives.

Regardless of whether these groups are cross-pollinated to the point of being a disruptive offender group, other characteristics common to prison gangs go beyond racial lines of membership. These characteristics are common to most any gang within jail and/or prison, though not necessarily common to those based primarily on the street. First, prison gangs tend to have highly formal rules and a written constitution. The constitution and the rules are adhered to by all members who value their affiliation, and sanctions are taken against those who violate the rules. Second, prison gangs tend to be structured along a semimilitary organizational scheme. Thus, authority and responsibility are very clearly defined within these groups. Third, membership in a prison gang is usually for life. This has often been referred to, as noted above, as blood in—blood out among the popular subculture. This lifelong affiliation is also one of the root causes of parolees continuing their affiliation beyond the prison walls, and this lifelong membership is enforced against those who attempt to exit the prison gang. Thus, when gang members leave the prison environment, they are expected to perform various “favors” for the members who are still incarcerated. Lastly, as members circulate in and out of prison, they are involved in gang activities both inside and outside of the penal institution. Thus, the criminal enterprise continues to be an active business, and prison simply becomes part of the overhead involved in running that business.

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