How Gangs Took Over Prisons - And Why It May Be A Good Thing
September 19, 2014 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Prison gangs are becoming the custodians of order behind bars and on the streets Books such as Christian Parenti's, Lockdown America, and David Skarbek's,The Social Order of the Underworld posit the idea that prison gangs such as the Aryan Nation, The Mexican Mafia, The Black Guerrilla Family, and others serve a useful function. Prison gangs in an effort to keep their business interests going want order. Multiple gangs keep the other gangs in check. With the US having one of, if not the highest rate of incarceration it may be impossible to maintain any semblance of order without the gangs.
posted by 2manyusernames (39 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
The US has some serious problems flying under the radar, and this is only one of them.
posted by hippybear at 4:33 PM on September 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Prison gangs make the trains run on time.
posted by vapidave at 4:34 PM on September 19, 2014 [14 favorites]


Prison gangs make the trains run on time.

One thing they certainly do is make the perceived cost of going to prison much higher than it should be for non-gang-affiliated people, effectively making the consequences of social protest much higher than they otherwise would be as a result.

So, yes, they serve a useful function for somebody. But it's not a good thing.
posted by mhoye at 4:37 PM on September 19, 2014 [26 favorites]


My first reaction to the write-up was "that's ridiculous" but I thought "I should at least read the article, maybe I'm wrong." After reading the article, though, I remain unconvinced that a precarious balance between brutally violent criminal cartels is either advisable or the best we can expect.

U.S. "corrections" policies are terrible. The vacuum that these gangs fill isn't there by accident and rather than celebrate the fact that the gangs have achieved an equilibrium under which there is somewhat less violence I would rather be holding our corrections officials' feet to the fire for the incompetent neglect or deliberate barbarism -- at this point I don't much care which, and suspect both -- that makes the prison gang situation seem like a reasonable alternative.
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:38 PM on September 19, 2014 [23 favorites]


Prison gangs are ultimately an example of the spread of capitalism into a system. It's no surprise that the form capitalism takes on (in prison or elsewhere) is organized and brutal.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:38 PM on September 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


Oh, the corporations that are supposed to be running our prisons aren't doing their jobs? I'm shocked.
posted by item at 4:39 PM on September 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


prison gangs ... serve a useful function

This is an obvious, sociology 101 sort of point, but maybe it needs to be said:
Functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole society ... Functionalism has been critiqued by many sociologists for its neglect of the often negative implications of social order.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:39 PM on September 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


Of course the obvious solution to maintaining order in prisons is not to lock up such a huge percentage of the population especially for so many trivial reasons.

Stop the selling of citizens to for-profit prisons, reduce sentencing and cut back on and what is worthy of incarceration in the first place and you could end up with a managable prison population without the need for fear, intimidation, murder, and more that you get from gangs.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:43 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


On the other hand all you might end-up with at this point is prison cannibalism.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:48 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is the gang problem really with for-profit prisons? The example in the article was with a public one I thought. I feel like these gangs are more like unions with no boundaries. It's an interesting phenomenon, either way. Prisons are terrible.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:49 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Anyone who would praise a system where order is maintained by neo-Nazis is lawful-evil.

One thing they certainly do is make the perceived cost of going to prison much higher than it should be for non-gang-affiliated people

This was certainly true in the GULAG. Solzhenitsyn frequently complained that career criminals had the run of the system, at the expense of political prisoners and people who had been randomly arrested.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:49 PM on September 19, 2014 [22 favorites]


One thing they certainly do is make the perceived cost of going to prison much higher than it should be

Not to mention the likelihood of innocent people accepting a plea bargain for a non-custodial sentence due to the risk of prison if they fight the charges.
posted by ambrosen at 4:59 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


The growth in influence of prison gangs is a horrible thing. Street gangs are run from prisons nowadays. That means the shot callers, the people who are supposed to provide long term strategic guidance have zero investment in the communities that the street gangs prey upon. So maybe prison gangs make the jailers jobs easier but they make the lives of everyone on the outside harder.
posted by rdr at 5:02 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


No, having prisons run by violent lawless race-based gangs is no sense a good thing. It's merely that having an equilibrium is better than nothing, I guess.

And it comes to that because as matters stand, it can't really be fixed: We'd have to patch the damned holes in the boat before it can be pumped out.

Those holes being: a rate of imprisonment as high as any society in human history, probably the highest, and based mostly on drugs; prisons being run by private corporations for purposes of profit, rather than crime reduction; and a general view that any horrors whatsoever visited on a prisoner are his just desserts. You can't just somehow fix the prisons in isolation. You have to fix those first.
posted by tyllwin at 5:36 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Here's a thought, if you're feeling conspiratorial: post-Attica, I'll bet having the inmates grouping up to fight each other looked awfully fucking good compared to having them group up to fight the screws.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:36 PM on September 19, 2014 [18 favorites]


Not to mention the likelihood of innocent people accepting a plea bargain for a non-custodial sentence due to the risk of prison if they fight the charges.

More or less legal racketeering, really.
posted by weston at 5:40 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I've heard so many people say that you get what you deserve in prison. If you get raped or beaten or killed, well, prison's supposed to be terrible so that you won't want to go. What they're really saying is that they're ok with rapists and murderers dispensing justice for society. That's disturbing as all hell.
posted by azpenguin at 5:42 PM on September 19, 2014 [31 favorites]




Yes, there are countries at or above our incarceration rate, but they're tiny places where a few people can skew the numbers.
posted by tyllwin at 6:06 PM on September 19, 2014


"Here's a thought, if you're feeling conspiratorial: post-Attica, I'll bet having the inmates grouping up to fight each other looked awfully fucking good compared to having them group up to fight the screws."

Grouping up is hard to manage. Staged fiights as in Corcoran or Pelican Bay [and others] are a more effective means to demonstrate control. Plus you can bet.
posted by vapidave at 6:34 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Quase Dois Irmãos depicted how well allowing prison gangs to grow and acquire sophisticated structure worked for Brazil. I doubt we will look back any more proudly on this interlude.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:45 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh, the corporations that are supposed to be running our prisons aren't doing their jobs? I'm shocked.

3.7% of the prison population are in private prisons, let's not start this circlejerk again.
posted by emptythought at 7:34 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


Seychelles?
posted by vapidave at 7:44 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


"3.7% of the prison population are in private prisons, let's not start this circlejerk again."

I'm honestly confused. What was the circlejerk? Memail is maybe best.
posted by vapidave at 7:47 PM on September 19, 2014


That 3.7% number you got from wikipedia was from 2011.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 8:16 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Allowing murderous thugs to control prisons and profit from inmates and to use violence and intimidation is corruption, whether the murderous thugs are gang members or government employees. The increase in corruption in the US is a very bad sign.
posted by theora55 at 8:32 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm honestly confused. What was the circlejerk? Memail is maybe best.

Basically, and i'll let it drop because only a couple comments in here even hinted at that at all, that because for profit prisons exist at all that any discussion of US prisons is by default a discussion about them as if they're the majority or it's some huge conspiracy where anyone sent to prison is caught in the tendrils of the for profit incarceration empire.

And like, in reality, if you want that, go look at the COs unions.
posted by emptythought at 8:40 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm confused about the circlejerk as well. 3.7% of the US prison population is still roughly 90,000 inmates in the hands of for profit institutions, which is roughly 90,000 too many.
posted by item at 9:26 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Instead of locking down, shouldn't we as a society be doing just the opposite? locking up

tsk, [shakes head in smug disappointment]
posted by mulligan at 10:27 PM on September 19, 2014


"Circlejerk" was an offensively dismissive way to put it but I agree with emptythought to this extent: this is not solely, or even chiefly, about prison privatization. Prison privatization is a very bad idea in my opinion but it's a side issue here.

The main story is our government's and our society's tolerance (and in a truly disturbing number of cases - approval) of a prison system that is corrupt and brutal.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:47 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ok guys I'm sorry I made the corporate prisons crack. Sheesh.
posted by item at 11:03 PM on September 19, 2014


Ah, thanks for the clarification[s].
posted by vapidave at 11:35 PM on September 19, 2014


List of countries by incarceration rate

Bizarre to me, the scale of how wrong and out of sync the US is with the rest of the world. Gotta burn that shit down and start again.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:47 AM on September 20, 2014


I feel like these gangs are more like unions with no boundaries.

How do you know they're not governments run like a business?
posted by sneebler at 7:43 AM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Actually the sheer horror of the prison system, the lack of separate placement for political prisoners, as opposed to criminals, and the lack of non - fascist prison gangs, as well as the fact ANY kind of criminal record can do you out of employment and housing make protest scary for anyone non - fascist once arrest is a possibility.
If you are not a Person of Color, and you are not a fascist, once imprisoned who are your allies?
The answer is, you don't have anyone.
I wonder if this fact isn't the real reason some aspects of American life lately haven't caused open rebellion?
It is just physically safer to play along with Fox News...
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:53 AM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Unprecedented incarceration and surveillance. Yet crime falls even as the economy gets worse. Why could that be?
posted by wuwei at 5:06 PM on September 20, 2014


We quit putting lead in everything.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 7:42 PM on September 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


"We quit putting lead in everything."

One day I'll make a post about this [or you]. There are three elements [heh], one is lead, one is violence by age, and one is incarceration. There is probably a fourth and fifth as well that track with the others.

The suprising one to me is how well environmental lead tracks with violence over decades. The rate of release is well documented but the peaks also coincide with wartime which means a bunch of young men on the loose. The decline in the rate of violent crimes in the US mirrors the increased rate of incarceration too.

I guess it's pretty much impossible to study.
posted by vapidave at 12:31 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


>>I guess it's pretty much impossible to study.

needs more pink ribbons...
posted by j_curiouser at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2014


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