A major concern regarding crime today that exists within prisons as well as on the streets is the formation of gangs. "Prison gangs are flourishing across the country. Organized, stealthy and deadly, they are reaching out from their cells to organize and control crime in America's streets.... prison disturbances soared by about 400% in the early nineties, which authorities say indicated that gangs were becoming more active... As much as 60% of the prison population belong to gangs." (Danitz 1998) Authorities say that many of the prison gang members were used to being gang members on the outside, but in other cases even authorities admit that many inmates are joining gangs for "survival" and "protection." Which returns to the previously mentioned dilemma. What are inmates needing protection from? Is time behind bars not supposed to be one that allows for contemplation about past mistakes in an atmosphere that allows for psychological healing? Prisoners need protection from the way in which the prison system functions, other inmates, and prison employees. "Protection remains an important factor. When a new inmate enters the prison system he is challenged to a fight...The outcome determines who can fight, who will be extorted for protection money and who will become a servant to other prisoners. Those who can't join a gang or afford to spend $5 a week in commissary items for protection are destined to be servants.... The environment is set up so that when you put that many people with antisocial behavior and criminal history together, someone is going to be the predator and someone the prey, and that is reality." (Danitz 1998) Prison gangs do also become involved in racketeering, black markets, drugs, and racism. Gangs in prisons are more low-key and better organized than street gangs, often because after street gang members are arrested, they realize their high-profile and careless attitude made them easier to catch. By imprisoning gang members, it teaches them to be smarter, slyer, more dangerous gangs, for only the fittest will survive the prison competition. Gang investigators claim that gang leaders pass secret messages to their packs through secret codes in letters and artwork. However, some prisoners' rights activists remark that the policies put into place to control these secret communications are simply attempts to censor prisoners unfairly. Prisons may also be using gang labeling of prisoners to get away with more severe punishments than normal prisoners get, "They isolate and place them in lockdown status to discourage membership." (Danitz 1998) Meanwhile, prisoners who join gangs while incarcerated but serve a short sentence will be able to serve the prison gang on the streets once released, gangs maintaining a "blood in, blood out" philosophy. It is also difficult to say how much crime can actually be attributed to gangs in prison. Rising crime rates are used as proof that gang activity is rising, but according to the leader of an infamous Chicago street gang, things are more logical than outsiders believe them to be. "The gangs have an understanding with each other. We talk to each other to ensure that we don't have a confrontation. We try to keep the static down." (Macko 1997)
Among the crimes for which gangs in prison are admittedly responsible are graffiti-tagging their cells, holding academic classes on the history and functionality of their gang, and convincing guards for some special privileges for gang members of not just their own gang, but all gangs held in the prison. Gang members are also responsible for sexual abuse of other inmates, but the sexual abuse situation in prisons can be linked to many factors, not gangs alone.
Finally, gang leaders will often have more "luxury" in their daily prison life than other inmates, procuring extra food, television, cell phones, and even butlers while behind bars. One gang leader's cell was raided, revealing that he had collected "a cellular telephone, four cellular phone batteries, 13 bottles of expensive designer cologne, a Casio mini-color television, a calculator, an electric iron, two hot pots and... A portable washing machine." (Macko 1997) All of these items are, of course, contraband, and a crime to possess. Other gang leaders will share such contraband. "In 1995, Stateville officials uncovered hundreds of pounds of food that was stolen by the members of the Gangster Disciples from the prison kitchen. The food included hamburger meat, huge rolls of sliced turkey, a large number of canned hams and boxes of frozen seafood. Big Lowe used the food to run a thriving cell-house restaurant." (Macko 1997) According to one inmate, "I've seen guys with 20 or 30 cheeseburgers walking up and down the gallery shouting. 'I've got cheeseburgers! I've got cheeseburgers!' or, 'Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!'" (Macko 1997) Other more serious charges against gangs in prison than contraband and cheeseburgers are riots, such as the one in Trenton in the past year. "During the riot, inmates allegedly attacked officers with makeshift weapons including padlocks swung inside of socks, broom handles and clothes irons." (Dopp 2005) Prison administrators there admit that the system is not designed to rehabilitate these people. "I'd love to tell you we create ex-gang members. That's not the case....Prisons and gangs go hand in hand." (Dopp 2005)
One of the most common contraband concerns among prisons is drugs. This is not surprising because a vast majority of inmates have been incarcerated for drugs-related charges. Drug use is rampant in prison. In British prisons, for example, "Glasgow in particular, has an injecting culture... 15% of those tested positive for opiates. This implies that 22-45% of inmates are using heroin inside the prison." (Gore & Bird, 1998) Similar studies show that American prisons are active drug houses. However, there is a lack of properly conducted studies regarding the condition of drug-use in prisons. What is known is that intravenous drugs, such as heroin, are a serious health risk due to blood-borne viruses such as HIV / AIDS. Due to the risks of needle use in particular, many concerned parties express that the obviously failing "war on drugs" method should be cast to the side in favor of programs that might actually have some positive results. "They should give priority to getting prisoners 'off injecting' before getting them 'off drugs' and to rehabilitation of inside users of opiates. Underestimating the numbers taking opiates through random mandatory drug testing risks serious under-resourcing of prisoners' health care. Moreover, the policy of random mandatory drug testing is not delivering reductions in opiate use. Worse...create a new market for heroin in prisons because heroin has a shorter half life than cannabis and thus is less likely to be detected by random testing." (Gore & Bird, 1998) the vast majority of methadone patients who become incarcerated do not have their prescriptions continued in prison, leading to further drug use instead of continued rehabilitation. Additionally, other factors put prisoners at high risk for contracting Hepatitis B or HIV / AIDS, and needle usage adds to that high risk.
Other drugs are a concern as well for prison authorities, as are any kind of contraband whatsoever. The presence of contraband material is considered to be a very severe crime in prison because it undermines the authority of the prison over the inmate. "People in society and correctional officers need to understand that immediate control over the prison system is often an illusion at any time....Contraband equals power." (Danitz 1998) Much of the concern with gangs is the amount of contraband electronics, supplies, food, and drugs which they contribute to prison society. Many prisons have outlawed cigarettes, as well as other drugs and alcohol, so cigarettes are a hot trade-goods item. "Texas should never have outlawed smoking in the prisons, adding cigarettes as trade-goods contraband to the prohibited list...you will see that the first thing that developed was a gang because someone had to control the contraband -- that is power." (Danitz 1998)
Gangs, drugs, contraband, and small crimes committed within prisons are cause for concern, but the degree of violence, related to these factors and many others, is truly disturbing. The group California Prison Focus says that the prison system "has promoted an atmosphere of violence and mistreatment." (Foley 2000) the California Department of Correction (CDC) is to blame for a lot of prisoner violence that takes place within the prison systems of that state. "Our system here is an aberration. California has the most violent prison system in the country...The CDC has said that they have created policies designed to reduce violence and abuse, when in fact they have chosen policies which encourage violence....The rate of violence is up, abuse of inmates is up, and prisoner on staff assaults are up." (Foley 2000) the overall occurrence of violence in all state prisons, including those between inmates and guards, as well as between inmates and inmates, has been rising steadily for the past decade. The CDC…