|By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Gabriel Morales has worked in the area of gang prevention, both in the adult and juvenile system, for more than 25 years. He’s helped at-risk youth in Seattle and Los Angeles and spent six years as a correctional peace officer at Folsom State Prison in California.
Now the founder of Gang Prevention Services, Morales collaborates with corrections, community corrections, police, schools, and many more to teach gang prevention and make an impact on the gang problem in the United States.
In his new book, Prison Gangs in America, Morales explores the connection between street gangs and prison gangs. Called “not afraid to deal directly with uncomfortable issues in society” and “proudly ‘politically incorrect,’” Morales’ book shares the good, bad and even ugly of gangs, politics, police and corrections today.
Corrections.com: Prison gangs are definitely under the average person’s radar – what will surprise people when they read your book?
Gabriel Morales: I think most people don’t understand the connection between street gangs and prison gangs. The street gang member who goes to jail does not stop their criminal gang activity in jail. Street gang members arrested for gang shootings go to prison and will join the prison gang there. Or an inmate with absolutely no gang affiliation might join a prison gang, be released, and then return to the community to join the street gang.
CC: So a prison gang’s influence isn’t just limited to within the walls of the prison?
GM: Street gangs are definitely influenced by prison gangs. I think a lot of people have heard the term of “the revolving door phenomenon” referring to prisons and jails in terms of recidivism. But with my book, I wanted to expand on that and show how it exists in the world of prisons, jails, and gang activity. I don’t think people understand how complex the whole issue is.
CC: You’ve spent about ten years collecting research for this book – what did you learn about the history of prison gangs?
GM: I did conduct a lot of research, so I have a lot of history on each gang going back over the last 40 years. Early on, prison gangs weren’t really even noticed. It wasn’t until the early ’70s, when offenders coming out of prison gangs were literally taking the gang wars to the street that people realized the problem. This really started influencing Los Angeles gangs like the Crips and Bloods, and it all just kind of evolved and grew worse.
CC: You’ve also included hundreds of historical photographs of gangs in your book – how were you able to put together this collection?
GM: I was fortunate to be able to use my connections in the field. I’ve got lots of pictures, historical pictures, some that people have never even seen. I got some from old retired gang investigators. Many of these are really rare, and they show the history of California’s security threat groups and other prison gangs around the nation.
CC: Many of the reviews of your book describe you as being “politically incorrect” when it comes to gangs and the criminal justice system. What do they mean?
GM: Well, I’ve been critical of police agencies for having massive sweeps of the community that lock up 50, 75, maybe 100 gang members. While this is a great way to reduce violence and to temporarily take drugs and guns off the street, it also can create a “vacuum.” Younger gang members who are not as well schooled are left on the street being reckless, trying to make names for themselves. It creates a boomerang effect. The violence can come back worse than before.
In corrections, I understand the need for segregating members of different gangs because without segregation, the violence can get out of control. But in a lot of ways, segregating can make prison gangs stronger. It helps them to essentially buy the fear of the other inmates, which can help them control the inmate population.
CC: What are some of the bigger challenges gangs and prison gangs pose today?
GM: I wanted my book to show that gang members have been able to use the criminal justice system to their advantage. These guys may seem like a bunch of dummies, but they are all well schooled in the justice system and how to manipulate it.
And right now we’ve got a big problem with youth gang violence, with kids twelve, thirteen, fourteen-years-old. A lot of people think these young kids are just acting out, but they don’t realize a lot are really trying to impress older gang members involved in organized gangs. We should all be concerned, as a society.
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