why inmates join prison gangs

Why Inmates Join Prison Gangs


In the dark corners of the correctional system, prison gangs have taken root and continue to thrive. Behind bars, inmates often find themselves drawn into the complex world of gangs, seeking protection, identity, and a sense of belonging. This article explores the underlying reasons why inmates join prison gangs, shedding light on the socioeconomic factors, psychological influences, and power dynamics that drive this phenomenon.

Understanding Prison Gangs

Before delving into the reasons behind inmate gang affiliations, it’s essential to grasp the nature of prison gangs themselves. Prison gangs are organized groups that operate within correctional facilities, exhibiting a hierarchical structure and engaging in criminal activities such as drug trafficking, extortion, and violence. Understanding the allure of prison gangs requires an examination of the multifaceted factors at play.

Socioeconomic Factors

One significant factor contributing to inmates joining prison gangs is the socioeconomic background of individuals. Many inmates come from disadvantaged communities with limited access to resources, education, and opportunities. The cycle of poverty and lack of social support outside the prison walls can lead them to seek alternative forms of protection and support within gangs.

Lack of Protection

Prisons can be dangerous environments, with violence and conflict prevalent among inmates. Joining a prison gang offers a measure of protection against rival groups or individual threats. Inmates who fear for their safety may see joining a gang as a means of survival, as the group provides physical protection and a collective defense mechanism.

See also  Can You Record Prison Visits

Identity and Belonging

Human beings have an innate need for a sense of identity and belonging, even in the most challenging circumstances. In the prison setting, where individuals are stripped of their autonomy, joining a gang can provide a newfound identity and a sense of belonging to a larger community. The gang becomes a surrogate family, offering support, camaraderie, and a shared set of values.

Survival and Security

Prison gangs often control various aspects of inmate life, including access to necessities such as food, clothing, and even drugs. Inmates may align with a gang to secure these vital resources, increasing their chances of survival in a harsh and unpredictable environment. By affiliating with a gang, they gain access to the gang’s network and protection, which can enhance their well-being behind bars.

Recruitment Strategies

Prison gangs employ sophisticated recruitment strategies to lure vulnerable individuals into their ranks. These tactics may involve exploiting inmates’ vulnerabilities, promising a sense of purpose or protection, or leveraging racial and ethnic bonds. Gang members actively recruit new members, often targeting those who appear isolated, fearful, or in need of assistance.

Racial and Ethnic Bonds

In a diverse prison population, racial and ethnic bonds can play a significant role in gang affiliations. Inmates may join gangs that share their racial or ethnic background as a means of seeking protection, forming alliances, or establishing a power base. These affiliations can create a sense of unity among members who share common experiences and cultural connections.

Power and Control

The allure of power and control can be enticing for inmates, particularly those who have experienced a lack of agency in their lives outside of prison. Joining a prison gang can provide individuals with a sense of authority and dominance over others. The hierarchical structure within gangs offers opportunities for advancement, which can be appealing to those seeking influence and control.

See also  Can You Read in Prison

Drugs and Contraband

Prison gangs often control the illicit drug trade within correctional facilities. For some inmates struggling with addiction or looking to profit, joining a gang can grant access to drugs and contraband items. This association provides them with opportunities for substance abuse, financial gain, or a sense of power derived from controlling valuable commodities.

Influence on Prison Life

Prison gangs exert a significant influence on the dynamics and culture within correctional facilities. Their presence can lead to heightened violence, territorial disputes, and increased tensions among inmates. The actions and activities of gangs can shape the daily routines and interactions of prisoners, affecting their overall well-being and safety.

Psychological Factors

The psychological impact of incarceration can contribute to an inmate’s decision to join a prison gang. The isolation, stress, and lack of autonomy experienced in prison can take a toll on an individual’s mental health. Joining a gang can provide a support system and a coping mechanism to deal with the psychological challenges of imprisonment.

Rehabilitation Challenges

The presence of prison gangs poses significant challenges to the rehabilitation efforts of correctional systems. Gang affiliations can impede an inmate’s ability to reintegrate into society upon release. The perpetuation of criminal behavior, adherence to gang values, and loyalty to the gang hierarchy hinder efforts to rehabilitate and reform inmates, perpetuating a cycle of incarceration.

Impact on Recidivism

The connection between prison gangs and recidivism rates is a cause for concern. Inmates who become deeply involved in gang activities while incarcerated are more likely to continue their criminal behavior upon release. The sense of belonging, identity, and support within the gang can make it difficult for individuals to break free from the cycle of violence and criminality.

See also  Can You Get Kosher Food in Prison


The decision of inmates to join prison gangs stems from a complex interplay of socioeconomic, psychological, and power dynamics. Factors such as the need for protection, identity, and survival, combined with the allure of power and control, contribute to this phenomenon. Understanding why inmates join prison gangs is crucial for implementing effective measures to address the underlying issues and promote safer and more rehabilitative correctional environments.


  1. Can prison gangs be disbanded? While it is challenging to completely eradicate prison gangs, efforts can be made to disrupt their activities, weaken their influence, and implement stricter security measures. Effective strategies involve intelligence gathering, separating high-risk individuals, and providing education and rehabilitation programs to address root causes.
  2. Do prison gangs exist in all correctional facilities? Prison gangs can be found in many correctional facilities worldwide, although their prevalence and influence may vary. Factors such as the prison’s location, inmate demographics, and management practices can affect the presence and prominence of gangs.
  3. Are all inmates affiliated with prison gangs? No, not all inmates are affiliated with prison gangs. While gang membership can be significant within correctional systems, there are also inmates who choose to remain unaffiliated and distance themselves from gang activities.
  4. Do prison gangs only form along racial lines? Prison gangs can form based on various factors, including race, ethnicity, geography, or shared criminal affiliations. While racial and ethnic bonds can be influential in gang affiliations, they are not the sole determinants.
  5. What measures are taken to protect inmates from prison gangs? Correctional facilities implement security measures such as regular searches, surveillance systems, and intelligence gathering to identify and prevent gang-related activities. Separation of high-risk inmates and providing support for those vulnerable to gang influence are also vital in protecting inmates.

Similar Posts