Back in March, two local prosecutors in Kaufman County, Texas, were killed, probably by members of the Texas Aryan Brotherhood. They were targeted for supporting a federal investigation. The prosecutor promptly withdrew "for security reasons."
About a month later, a sweeping indictment charged that the Black Guerilla Family, also a prison gang, had corrupted 13 prison guards and turned the whole Baltimore jail into a stronghold.
Despite their ideological origins, both are more traditional syndicates now, dedicated to running extensive drug and crime empires. This piece, by an ex-con familiar with the Aryan Brotherhood, illuminates some key points about how they operate on the ground level.
But what's missing from the discussion is exactly how dire a breakdown of the justice system the power of prison gangs represents.
While the mafia, and every other bit of organized crime humans have come up with, had connections within prisons and was prepared for its members to do time, the entire structure relied on most of the members being out on the street most of the time.
Not so with prison gangs. They started with most of their members behind bars. Traditional ways of breaking up criminal power structures (isolating members in different prisons, big racketeering cases), just helped them to grow.
So what can the state use against them? Round them up and send them to prison? They're just going back home. Solitary confinement? Their leadership is used to it, and can still communicate just fine. Their power's enough that they can even outright attack the state in a way the mafia never dared to (the Five Families actually killed those who went after prosecutors).
A more ruthless government might see the simplest solution as executing the prison gangs' leadership: it has them imprisoned, after all. But given the brutishly corrupt nature of much of the existing prison system, that would probably just open the door to even more human rights abuses, including to prisoners who aren't even part of the gangs. If the corruption's deep enough, like at the Baltimore jail, it might even give the gangs another tool to consolidate their power by eliminating their rivals.
And that's not even getting into the existence of pockets like Mountain Home that serve as out-of-prison bases and no-go zones for law enforcement. That bodes well.
Amazingly, we've managed to create a system that fails at both punishment and rehabilitation.