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
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
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. …