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Gangs and Security Threat Groups
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 08/26/2013

Image ​Earlier this year I submitted an article titled “Gangs and Security Threat Groups” that was published in corrections.com February 2013. I was requested to do a follow-up article about prisons gangs and security threat groups. I conducted some additional research for prison gangs and wanted to share some additional information. Prison Gangs, Security Threat Groups (STG’s), and Disruptive Groups are terms used by prisons for gangs inside our facilities. There are some similarities, yet some differences as well in describing these gangs.

​Some states use ‘two or more inmates acting together’ whiles others use ‘three or more inmates.’ Regardless of the number, these groups are a threat to the safety and security of the institution. Dr. George W. Know, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, published a 2012 Survey titled: “The Problem of Gangs and Security Threat Groups (STG’s) in American Prisons and Jails today.” This study consisted of ‘148 facilities located in 48 states.’ I encourage all readers to access this study and take time to review the results. Next, you can compare the data with your own facility.

​Data review indicates gang members are more of a threat to our facilities than non-gang members. This survey consisted of thirteen major areas with additional survey questions for each area.
  1. Characteristics Of The Responding Correctional Facilities
  2. Scope And Extent Of The Gangs/STG Problem In American Corrections
  3. The Issue Of Gang Recruitment Behind Bars
  4. The Issues And Controversies About Religious Worship For Inmates and Prisoners
  5. The Issue Of Racial Extremism And Racial Conflict Behind Bars
  6. The Issue of Gang Renunciation: Getting Out Of The Gang
  7. Housing Gang Inmates Separate Or Together: Which Is Best
  8. The Politics Of Gangs/STG Problems In American Corrections
  9. Gang/STG Abuse of Mail and Telephone Communications In American Corrections
  10. Other Types Of Problems Behind Bars Caused By Gangs/STG’s
  11. Strategies To Control Gangs/STF’s Behind Bars
  12. What Should Be Done To Respond To the Gang/STG Problems
  13. Predictions For The Years Ahead Regarding Gangs/STG Problems Behind Bars

​The following are some of the survey questions and results. I selected some questions asked and wanted to share this information with you. The first question I selected asked if ‘prison overcrowding was a problem at their facility.’ Approximately 36% responded yes. Respondent’s facility levels consisted of the following: “18.5% minimum security, 35.6% medium security, and 45% were maximum security facilities.’

​The validation process of gang members will vary state-state. This may consist of a photograph, self-admission, and other variables. The term ‘gang density’ is the percentage of inmates who are gang or STG members, however not validated. This can result in an under representation of gang numbers. Again this will vary state-state.

​Approximately 25% of the facilities reported gang member assaults on staff and approximately 50% reported gang member threats on staff. This reinforces why training of staff is critical. Yet, approximately one third of the respondents do not provide formal gang training.

​Within your facility, do you know if the inmate disciplinary policy states that gang recruitment is a violation? Survey results reflect 58% of the institutions do. Along these same lines, we need to be aware of what our inmates are reading. Around 25% of the inmate population requested the ‘Satanic Bible” while 20% requested the ‘Temple of Wanton (The Holy Book of the Aryan Tribes).

​Facilities are still struggling with housing of gang members. Some of the older prisons are not designed to house certain types of offenders or have limited space and/or beds to accommodate inmate populations that are a threat to the safety and security of the institution. Gangs and/or STG’s continue to contribute to disruptions within our facilities and create security concerns. As you know, their involvement in illegal activities continues to increase and poses a threat to other inmates, staff, and the institution. These threats posed by gangs and STG’s cannot be overlooked. It is increasingly important for all staff to be trained in gang awareness, gang recognition, and handling these types of incidents. At the same time, many facilities are facing budget concerns often resulting in program reductions, staffing shortages, and lack of training.

​Inmates incarcerated are not going anywhere. Beds are at a premium and as quickly as one leaves another is already being received. Many officials also feel a large percentage of inmates affiliated with gangs will recidivate upon release and return to prison. We still need to be creative and try to improve programs available for offenders and hopefully, improve their chance of success back into society. Renunciation programs are limited and only available in a limited number of facilities. Along with programs, we must be strong in our efforts to improve our gang control and monitoring efforts. The survey results indicates the top strategies used to monitor gangs and STG’s consist of the following; monitor telephone class and mail, case by case (look at each situation individually), use of informants, transfers, and segregation.

​Gang membership will only continue to grow and create safety and security concerns. Administration must ensure our staff are adequately trained and prepared to respond and deal with the gangs. We can deal with the small incident and must concentrate our efforts in an attempt to prevent major disturbances and riots. In addition, communication with all staff and reinforcement of training cannot be ignored. Future concerns may also consist of the following and not limited to; increase in staff threats and assaults, ‘radical militantism among Islamic inmates will increase, gang efforts will increase to use religion to their advantage, housing of gang members, training issues, and hiring of staff.

Corrections.com author, 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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