Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Shrink Rap News: Prison Gangs Pose Special Clinical Challenges

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Shrink Rap News: Prison Gangs Pose Special Clinical Challenges

Article excerpt

Before I worked in corrections, my knowledge about organized crime was limited to reruns of "The Godfather" and later episodes of "The Sopranos." Little did I know that crime rings would eventually become part of my day-to-day clinical life.

Recently, my local jail was shaken with the news that 25 people, including 13 correctional officers, had been federally indicted as a result of a 2-year-long investigation into corruption within the detention center Several members of the Black Guerilla Family were charged with drug distribution and money laundering, as well as witness tampering and other offenses, all directed from within the facility. What made the allegations particularly shocking was the fact that the alleged leader also had had sexual relations with female correctional officers while incarcerated and had impregnated four of them.

While I would like to say that this was a shock to me, the unfortunate truth is that I've watched the gradual infiltration of gangs into the state prison system over the last several years. My clinic patients discuss their concerns about gangs and institutional security. Some are former gang members, some gang informants. Most are careful to keep their confidences well circumscribed, talking only about general concerns or issues without ever giving enough detail to trigger a reporting duty and without giving up specific names.

They talk about the frustration of being denied jobs on the tier or being the last to get on the phone when these opportunities are controlled by gang members on the unit. They talk about being pressured to hold contraband or transmit messages to and from free society. They talk about being caught in the cross-fire of rivalries and turf issues.

Rarely, they talk about being the target of a gang contract killing. An inmate condemned to death by a gang is one of the most frightened prison patients I've ever encountered. He is frightened for himself but also for his family, who might be at risk as well. In this situation, the guilt of incarceration is compounded by the guilt and fear of being unable to protect a loved one.

When an inmate tells me these things, I have to question why they entrust me with this information. Sometimes the reason is simply that they need to tell someone trustworthy who can be counted on to keep a confidence. …

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