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Leaving Gang Life Behind in Texas
By Meghan Mandeville, News Research Reporter
Published: 09/06/2004

While gang life may have seemed like a good choice for some Texas offenders when they were on the outside, many inmate-gang members are starting to rethink that decision during their incarceration.  With the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) sending all confirmed members of eight Texas gangs - ranging from the Mexican Mafia to the Aryan Circle - directly into administration segregation, those inmates have nearly 23 hours a day to sit alone in their cells and reevaluate their decision to belong to a gang.

To help inmates who want to break away from that way of life, TDCJ created the Gang Renouncement and Disassociation (GRAD) program to give them a way out. 

"It gives the offenders an avenue to renounce their gang membership, to get out of the gang and to be able to go back to the general population," said Kenneth W. Lee, Program Administrator for TDCJ's STG Management Office.  "Then, [they can] be released into the free world and thrive in society."

The GRAD program began four years ago at the Ramsey I Unit in Rosharon, Texas and targets offenders who belong to one of the eight security threat groups (STG) that TDCJ has identified for automatic placement into administrative segregation.  All in all, about 6,000 inmates in the system belong to one of those gangs, which include the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, Mexican Mafia, Barrio Azteca, Aryan Circle, Texas Mafia, Raza Unida, Texas Syndicate and Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos.

After conducting research on the best way to channel confirmed gang members out of administrative segregation and back into the general population, TDCJ came up with a nine-month program designed to transition former gang members back into the rest of the inmate population.

"The only way they can get out is to renounce their membership," Lee said.  "If they meet all of the criteria for the program, they are put on a list."

Getting into GRAD

In order to be considered for the program, inmates must first submit a written statement to their STG officer stating their desire to renounce their membership to a particular gang.  Afterwards, officers conduct a complete investigation of that inmate on their unit, to ensure that they truly intend to break their gang ties.

Beyond the written letter and the investigation, inmates must meet a variety of other requirements before they are accepted into the program:

  •  no offender assaults for a period of two years
  •  no staff assaults for a period of two years
  •  no major disciplinary cases for at least one year
  •  no extortion cases for a period of two years
  •  no weapons possession cases for a period of two years
  •  no sexual misconduct for a period of two years
  •  must be level one status for a minimum of one year
  •  must have renounced membership to a STG
  •  must not have been involved in any STG act for a minimum of two years
  •  can not have a security precaution designator of escape, staff assault or hostage situation

In addition, offenders have to fill out a form, which is reviewed by a committee on the unit level and a then a regional coordinator, before it finds its way to Lee.

If an inmate is approved for the GRAD program, he is put on a waiting list, which now has 740 people on it, Lee said.  And there are another 1,000 inmates who have submitted, in writing, their intent to renounce their gang memberships and are currently being monitored in their administrative segregation units.

"They're really wanting to get into the program," Lee said.

Every month, 16 new offenders are entered into the program and transferred to Ramsey I, where they live apart from the general population for the first two phases of the three-phase program.

Easing Back into the General Population

According to Lee, during phase one, the inmates live in single cells.  He said it is an adjustment for a lot of the inmates to come out of administrative segregation - where they were handcuffed and shackled at all times when they were out of their cells - to an environment like Ramsey.

"There's a lot of rules they go by [at Ramsey], but it's completely different than administrative segregation," Lee said.  "It takes a while [for the inmates] to adjust because some of the offenders have been in administrative segregation for as long as 18 years."

After the inmates become accustomed to living at Ramsey and spend two months in phase one, they enter phase two, during which inmates from different STGs live together in double cells for four months.  According to Lee, the fact that former rival gang members are sharing a living space has never created any security issues.

"It has worked well," Lee said.  "Of course we have had some disciplinary problems, but it has not been gang related - not at all."

Throughout phases one and two, the inmates attend four hours of educational programming each day, including anger management, cognitive intervention and substance abuse classes.

Once the inmates advance to phase three, they are mixed in with the other inmates at Ramsey, but still monitored by GRAD program officers.  At this point, they take classes and work with the general population at the facility.

"They are separate from the rest of the general population while they are in phase one and phase two and, then, in phase three, they are put back into the rest of the general population [and] can continue [their] educational programming and [they are] given jobs to do to learn skills for when they do get out," Lee said.

After phase three, which lasts for three months, the inmates graduate from the GRAD program, their classifications are changed to reflect that they are now ex-gang members and they are transferred to other facilities, where they are integrated into the general population.

"There are a lot of different programs that are available to them once they have completed the GRAD process," Lee said.  "Then they are treated like any other offender."

A Win-Win Situation

Although the STG officers in the units the offenders transition to are aware of their ex-gang member statuses and keep a closer eye on them in the general population, Lee said, so far, he has had no problems with offenders acting up or rejoining gangs after they have completed the GRAD program.

"Knock on wood, I've graduated 329 [offenders and] zero have gone back to a gang," Lee said.

Because of the program's success, Lee would like to see it expanded, a proposal that is currently being considered by officials at TDCJ. 

"[We are] proposing to double it, so we'd be putting in 32 [offenders] a month and expanding [it] to 384 a year," Lee said.

It's a solid program, he added, because it benefits not only the offenders who are leaving gang life behind, but also the agency as a whole.

"It helps the security of the officers as far as lowering the number of confirmed gang members they have to watch," Lee said.  "It's [also] cost-effective because it's freeing up administrative segregation cells and hopefully it will prevent these offenders from coming back into the system."

Resources:

Lee (936) 437-8924 or Kenneth.lee@tdcj.state.tx.us



Comments:

  1. dsk2011 on 05/29/2012:

    I THINK THAT THE GRAD PROGRAM IS A GOOD THING. I READ ALL OF THE POSTS AND MUST VOICE MY OPINION. I AM A WIFE OF SOMEONE THAT IS INCARCERATED THAT HAS BEEN ACCEPTED INTO THE GRAD PROGRAM. HE IS IN THE INVESTIGATION PHASE CURRENTLY. AS FAR AS BEING TREATED UNHUMAN...I DON'T FEEL HE IS. YES, AT TIMES HE ISN'T ABLE TO DO WHAT HE WANTS AND THE FOOD ISN'T A 5 STAR RESTAURANT BUT HE HAS INTERACTION WITH OTHERS. DON'T GET ME WRONG I CAN'T WAIT TO BE ABLE TO HUG, KISS, TOUCH, SMELL, HOLD THE HAND OF MY HUSBAND. I CAN'T WAIT FOR HIM TO GET THROUGH IT AND US HAVE ACTUAL TIME TOGETHER. IT'S ALL A PROCESS AND I ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT ALTHOUGH OUR FAMILIES MIGHT NOT BE ONES THAT WOULD HURT ANYONE OR CAUSE TROUBLE THERE ARE SOME OUT THERE THAT WILL. THE OFFICERS NEED TO DO WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO TO STAY SAFE. I HAVE NO DOUBT THERE ARE INNOCENT MEN AND WOMEN IN SEG BUT IF THEY ARE TRULY INNOCENT THEN IT WILL BE NO TIME THEY CAN GO THROUGH THE STEPS OF THE PROGRAM AND BE HOME FREE. WISHING ALL OF YOU THE BEST AND GOD BLESS!!!

  2. kat51604 on 10/17/2011:

    kat2004. so wat happens when the inmate goes back into general population as an x-member of a gang? I mean seriously!!!won't they be under attack by their people?are they only with x-members in gerneral population!I'm confused!!???

  3. SAME on 04/23/2011:

    MY BELIEFS AND PAST WAYS OF THINKING WERE NOT MEETING MY NEEDS OVER TIME.SO....I CHANGED SOME OF MY BELIEFS AND WOULDNT YOU KNOW IT..MY THINKING CHANGED ALONG WITH IT.COGNITIVE INTERVENTION SAVES MY LIFE EVERYDAY...MY WORST DAY FREE BEATS MY BEST DAY LOCKED UP...GRAD IS A GIFT YOU HAVE TO EARN...THANKS FOR ALLOWING ME TO PARTICIPATE...MY FAMILY THANKS YOU TOO...I EARNED IT AND THEN I LEARNED IT.MY LIFE IS HARD RIGHT NOW BUT I WILL CONTINUE TO BATTLE.WILL IT MEET MY NEEDS OVER TIME? ITS WORKING...SLOWLY...BUT ITS WORKING.YOU GET OUT WHAT YOU PUT IN.THANKS GRAD...AND MY INSTRUCTOR MR.GOTT.

  4. GodIsLove08 on 09/21/2010:

    I think the GRAD Program is a tool that God has put into place to pull people out of darkness and to bring them to Him. The enemy (devil) lures these men into a life of distruction by glorifying money, power and violence. But praise God because He is ALMIGHTY and always finds a way to shine His light and bring hope to what was once lost and broken. One thing my husband (who is currently serving time and going through the investigation process) and I both agree on is that, without God...change is impossible. "Yes" all the classes are wonderful and I believe they are making a difference but if these men don't surrender their hearts to God...the change won't last. "Yes" they may graduate and "Yes" they may do great in population and once they are released BUT sooner or later...the enemy will come knocking on their door and without the power of God's Holy Spirit, they will not be able to resist the "fast life" and once more, they will be right back where they started. Scripture says that darkness comes disguised as light so without having a personal relationship with Jesus...they won't be able to tell the difference. My advice to any family member of an inmate currently enrolled or waiting to be enrolled into the GRAD Program is to pray for them. Don't depend on this program (or yourself) to change them...only GOD can do that. Thank You, God Bless!

  5. toni32875 on 09/16/2010:

    I think the program is very sad especialy for innocent victoms like my husband.He had already renounced the gang life back in 1996 and was out in population up until his release in 2001.He made a mistake and failed to report and got revoked.While in prison now in 2010 well they said he was an active member which he is not.Yes he has the tatoos and I think that is the only way they confirmed him this time.My husband went back to do his time but yet since there was no GRAD program back in the 1990's well he is concidered a gang member and he is not.So now he has to pay for that mistake.They have put him in AD-SEG and now our only one special thing we had till he came home was our contact visits and now we have to see him threw a glass window.He is very far away from us and us being able to see him and hug him was the reason for going to see him.So he shouldnt have to be in ad seg just because they say he needs to do a GRAD program.I wish I could get someone to help me on this because to me it is very unjustice of him being in AD-SEG just because they think he is a gang member.To me they didn't do their job and review him right.They just assumed because of his tatoos yea he is a gang member.That makes me sad and angry,because all this doesn't make any sense at all.If someone can help me on doing anything to help him please let me know.Thank you!

  6. webern80 on 03/22/2010:

    I have a son that is at Telford unit is has been trying to get into the program for e-gang member since 2009 and has gotten no help I belong to the Kiros menistry and would like some help with this. Thank You and May God Bless You. Naomi Weber

  7. Brenda on 03/09/2010:

    I think this is just another way of being cruel to humans, how can you keep someone in segregation for up to 18 years, away from human contact, if that is one of the reason for living, newborns die if they have no human contact after they are born. I believe that there are many other ways to reprimand offenders, isolation from human contact is not the way. It will not stop crime most likely it will destroy the social human and turn him into something else other than who he is or was people become who they are by their surroundings and by the engagements they have with others. Is there a possibility to change their surroundings or the people they are associating with? By being Isolated your mind starts playing tricks on you, like the saying goes, An Idle mind is the devils workshop. Generally, it is the people with no interesting things to do who come up with the most horrible ideas. This is mainly because their brains are in a state of laziness that can only harm the society they are living in. On the other hand, the intelligent people are rather busy persons, as there is always new and interesting to find out in this world. Their brains are always busy evolving. I would recommend to find other ways to address a solution for crime because I isolation is surely not solving anything; crime just keeps growing not the other way around. I recommend you read this very interesting article http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande#ixzz0hZcQv6hN

  8. car on 07/22/2009:

    i THINK THIS GRAD PROGRAM IS EXCELLENT. THIS IS A GREAT WAY TO ELIMINATE GANG ACTIVITIES IN THE TEXAS PRISONS. THANKS KENNETH LEE FOR COMING UP WITH THIS PROGRAM AND GOD BLESS. I PRAY THAT EVERY INMATE THAT IS INVOLVED IN THE PROGRAM GRADUATES SUCCESFULLY AND CONTINUES TO HAVE A POSITIVE LOOK ON LIFE. THANKS AGAIN...


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