For many people, when the word, “gangs,” is mentioned, they think of groups of criminals in society. What is often forgotten is that “gangs” – or “security threat groups” (STGs) – are a very real, and dangerous part of the corrections environment, with the National Gang Crime Research Center reporting a 25.9% gang density of newly arriving inmates.
While this same study says 74.9% of all American prisons have rules specifically prohibiting gang recruitment among other inmates, 94% of all responding prison professionals indicated prison is where gangs do recruit/get new members.
This presence of Strategic Threat Groups play a role in staff safety, with 25% of prisons reporting that gang members have accounted for staff assaults, almost half account for threats to staff, and in general, accounting for roughly one-third (33.7%) of all management problems in prisons and jails.
Join webinar host Ben Griego to learn the difference between street gangs and STGs, the current trends in STGS and how to identify/classify and manage these groups in prisons and jails more effectively.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Justice Clearinghouse [JCH]: Your webinar is specifically about security threat groups (STGs) and gangs in prisons/jails. Share a bit about the prevalence of this challenge facing prison and jail professionals are facing.
Ben Griego: Over the past 30 years, jails and prison staff have realized that STG/Gangs have controlled a lot of the illegal activities that occur within those environments. Statistics show that Security Threat Groups are responsible for 8 out of 10 serious incidents that occur inside prisons and jails. In order to properly address these issues, agencies have designed methods to identify and determine affiliations of numerous street gangs and Prison STG that were operating inside and outside Prisons/jails. In today’s prison world, the struggles staff face are intensified with the electronic communications abilities and in the end the motives are clearly for power, control, and of course money.
“California had prisons for nearly a century before the first documented gang appeared. … New York has had street gangs for well over a century, but its first major prison gang didn’t form until the mid-1980s.”
Academic, researcher David Skarbek, author of The Social Order of the Underworld
JCH: Tell us a bit about you: What drew you to this line of work? How did you become interested in security threat groups/gangs in jails and prisons?
Ben: In 1987 the Colorado Prison system decided to seek assistance from the National Institute of Correction to help us determine the extent of the Gang problem in the system. I was tasked with developing a program to identify and manage this population. As I continued to work with the experts from NIC I realized that the ever-changing dynamics of the gangs in prison presented very diversified and unique challenges and I was hooked. I began attending every and any seminar and conference on gangs.
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what justice professionals will learn by attending the webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?
Ben: The presentation will not speak to specific gangs or Security Threat Groups, but will give the audience the ability to build or develop their program within prison, jail or the streets. It will help them to evaluate where they are at with their own STG/Gang program and are they truly practicing the polices they have in place. It will provide a picture of where their agencies are with regard to addressing the Gang/STG issues in their area or system.
In 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confiscated 12,151 phones. A reasonable guess might be that this represented a tenth of all cellphones in the system, which means that almost every one of the state’s 135,600 inmates had a phone—all in violation of prison regulations.
Graeme Wood, “How Gangs Overtook Prisons,” The Atlantic Monthly
JCH: What are some of the “lessons learned” that the professionals whom you’ve worked with come back and share? What are things they’ve specifically said they’ve learned by listening to your presentations? Perhaps, can you share some success stories?
Ben: The most common concern heard for the past 30 years is that “our agency head does not believe we have a gang/STG issue.” [Many prisons] are not funded to have an adequate suppression unit or team.
I believe that most of the presentations I have given allow the attendees to at least take back some skills that they can use and eventually convince the decision makers within their agencies that being proactive to this problem is beneficial and saves more money than being reactive to events that occur when dealing with dangerous and violent gang/STG members.
Click here to view the webinar.