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Recognizing and Controlling Security Threat Groups
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 03/11/2013

Arrested youth a Due to fiscal shortfalls and concerns, the managing and control of our prisons are even more important. Corrections is used to making due with less. This does not distract from recognizing and controlling security threat groups. As we enter 2013, corrections is reminded: “Security Threat Groups” are still a threat to the overall safety and security of our prisons.

Many of our prisons and jails have excellent mission statements and policies and procedures in place related to prison gangs/security threat groups. These programs are in place to track and record threat groups and members. If a prison or jail has limited resources and is struggling to implement security threat group awareness; there are ample amount of agencies at the city, county, state, and federal levels willing to assist and share important information. It is more important than ever to implement security threat group awareness. The institution must recognize a gang problem and/or potential gang problem exists.

Corrections personnel also must be aware of reasons why inmates join these security threat groups. These can consist of protection, viewing the gang as family, a need to belong and/or be accepted, means of support, want to control their environment, etc. This is part of the ongoing security threat group awareness process.

Institutions face many challenges when dealing with the security threat groups. If these challenges are not dealt with timely, then these challenges will only escalate and lead to more serious problems. Institution administration and staff must be focused and recognize who the gang members are. The major security threat groups within a prison will vary from state to state.

Classification, as you know serves several purposes. Information collected will aid in properly assigning inmates and/or security threat group inmates to correct security levels, housing assignments, job assignment (if applicable), and other considerations. The institution should designate someone as security threat group coordinator. This officer will work with other staff in coordinating activities, collecting information, training, communication, dissemination of information, and identification of security threat groups and members. This is a vital role to assist in maintaining the safety and security of the institution.

Institutions work very hard in identifying security threat group members and validating this information. Validation can consist of the following identifiers, but not limited to; tattoos, gang colors or symbols, photos, confiscated material, interviews, drawings, graffiti, membership roster, gang organization chart, terminology, written messages with symbols, non-verbal can consist of gang signs, etc.

All staff must be trained in security threat group awareness and recognition. Policies and procedures must be in place and enforced to provide directions and protocol to use when identifying potential security threat group inmates and incidents. There is a tremendous amount of information generated on a daily basis. The trick is being able to analyze this information, and disseminate to the correct staff. This information is another useful tool to assist with improving the overall safety and security of the institution. Again, this information is essential in properly managing these types of offenders, developing housing strategies, identifying any trends and patterns, assisting classifications, security, etc.

Many states have implemented a zero tolerance policy regarding security threat groups. At the same time institutions must be proactive in their efforts managing and controlling this population. This can consist of controlled housing, administrative segregation, inmate(s) formally being charged with violating institutional rules, loss of privileges, continuing to develop new strategies for controlling security threat groups, monitoring of inmate telephone calls excluding legal and/or privilege, and improving communications at all levels.

Everyone in law enforcement needs to note; our prisons and jails often have more comprehensive collection of gang intelligence information then local law enforcement. We must put forth efforts in continuing to work toward improving communications with other agencies. I recognize at times this is often a closed door. Yet, this does not prohibit corrections from continuing to reach out. The use of effective communication is a powerful tool and can be advantageous to all.

Some of our security threat group inmates validated are going to be released. This can consist of transfer to another prison, discharge, parole, early release, etc. When this occurs an information packet can be provided to officials. This ongoing sharing of information and effective and effective communications allows for improved safety and security. Not only in corrections, but other jurisdictions as well.

I mentioned previously corrections face many challenges regarding security threat groups. Many challenges also exist to improve communications and sharing of information. We must not ignore that one of our goals is the ongoing safety and security of the institution. This includes other inmates, staff, victims and victim’s family, general public, etc. While maintaining the above, we cannot become complacent and ignore the remainder of the inmate corrections population.

Staff also must be aware of those security threat group members who want to renounce their gang affiliation and/or membership. Does the institution have a process in place to do this? Corrections needs to be prepared and creative in being able to control for security threat groups. Unfortunately, these security threat groups continue to thrive. Many prisons are beginning to experience an influx of new inmates. Some of these inmates are from other countries and entering our correctional systems. Some additional characteristics consist of them being extremely violent and having a military background. We know what security risks these are and must adapt to deal with them.

Lastly, corrections as I mentioned previously, has a tremendous amount of gang-related information. There is a need to continue providing information and communicating effectively with other law enforcement agencies. Many doors with law enforcement agencies are open, yet some agencies continue to have closed doors. This is another challenge for corrections and I have no doubt there is light at the end of the tunnel. Stay safe, and I, as well as others, appreciate the job that all do.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at criminaljustice@kaplan.edu .

Other articles by Campbell


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