Novel Attempt to Curb Prison Gang Violence Arizona Sends Prison Gang Leaders out of State to Isolate Them. but Will It Work?

By Pila Martinez, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Novel Attempt to Curb Prison Gang Violence Arizona Sends Prison Gang Leaders out of State to Isolate Them. but Will It Work?


Pila Martinez, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Inmates who try to run a gang in Arizona's prisons are getting themselves run out of state.

In a novel experiment, the state Department of Corrections is shipping prison gang leaders to other facilities across the country where they'll find themselves in the racial minority.

The aim: to curb one of America's most persistent causes of violence behind bars.

Transferring gang leaders "makes it very, very difficult - because of time and distance - for them to effectively become involved in any command and control of organized gang activities in our prison system," says Arizona Department of Corrections director Terry Stewart.

Gang violence remains one of the most stubborn problems for corrections officials at all levels, and if it proves successful, Arizona's nascent program could end up being duplicated by other states across the country.

Prisons began to bulge with gang members when states enacted tougher laws for gang-related crimes in the mid to late 1980s. But getting them off the street did not necessarily curtail their activities and, in many ways, their numbers - and power - grew inside prisons. Many inmates who hadn't previously been exposed to gangs were recruited and, after serving their sentence, allied with the gang outside prison walls.

Today, officials say, prison gangs are more prevalent and visible than ever. While gang problems exist at every level - federal, state, and county - they tend to be less severe at the federal level because of the government's willingness to move prisoners from one location to another more freely.

Moving prisoners more freely is what Arizona hopes to achieve.

The idea seems to be unique to Arizona, says James Turpin, legislative liaison for the American Correctional Association. But he wouldn't be surprised if other prisons are trading hard-to-manage inmates and getting rid of gang leaders in the process.

Old laws, new solutions

Booting prisoners across state lines is a twist on a law that was created, in part, to make life easier for inmates. Under the 1934 Crime Control Consent Act, states were authorized to form interstate compacts so they could send inmates to their home states to be closer to their families. Now the law is serving a duel purpose.

Arizona is considered to have one of the worst prison-gang problems in the nation, comprising mostly Hispanic and white supremacist gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood, Border Brothers, and Mexican Mafia.

The severity of this problem was manifest last year in the alleged assassination plot of Mr. Stewart by members of the New Mexican Mafia, says Mr. Turpin. The murder never took place and the case against the three gang members was later thrown out after the star witness refused to testify.

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Novel Attempt to Curb Prison Gang Violence Arizona Sends Prison Gang Leaders out of State to Isolate Them. but Will It Work?
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