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Prison gang activity must be top priority

June 24, 2007|by Lloyd "Pete" Waters

In our society today, and particularly the inner cities, the moral fiber of our country is showing signs of deep erosion. As the youth of these cities are searching for the path to the future, some seem to be slipping deeper into an abyss of hopelessness and despair.

In these same communities, there is little memory of a time when both a father and mother were present in the household. Who then provides the nurturing, supervision, discipline and direction?

Many inner-city children spend their early years surrounded by violence and little sense of a normal life, in neighborhoods that are infested with drug dealers who have no past work history listed on their rsums.

Many crimes go unchallenged in these neighborhoods, because witnesses don't want to be depicted as lowlife snitches, or are in great fear for their personal safety.

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All of the above ingredients serve to create an environment that is attractive to the development of gangs.

Gangs are created by individuals seeking a place to belong. Somewhere to fit. A commitment is made and an initiation completed, which often includes criminal activity. Then a lasting relationship is formed. A criminal lifestyle, drug trafficking and other delinquent behaviors are characteristics of the group.

It's easier to get in than to get out. The mentality of the group takes priority over one's ability to think for one's self. It's a very controlling membership prone to violence and criminality.

As gangs increase in the communities, law enforcement resources must also be increased. The taxpayers must assume the cost of these resources.

When law enforcement resources improve, arrests and convictions will also increase and the prison populations will grow.

In my early prison career, we dealt with some gangs and associated problems. Today, however, the prisons are engrossed with the gang situation and related management issues.

Some of these gangs include the Bloods, DMI (Dead Man Incorporated); the Cripps, MS 13, Aryan Brotherhood, Black Gorilla Family and many others too numerous to mention for this article. Some of the radical religious groups, too, serve as a cover for gang activity.

The recent large disturbance at the Metropolitan Transition Center and flare-ups and small riots at the local prisons, I suspect, are all gang related. As the gang numbers increase, the problems to include violence will increase.

The Department of Public Safety budget exceeds $1 billion and there are almost 24,000 inmates currently in the system. Many of these individuals are gang members who flourished in the streets.

Controlling these numbers and the behavior of gang members should be the priority of the system. Without identifying that priority, and controlling the same, all other potentially good programs, to include RESTART, will be seriously compromised.

The Maryland Division of Correction has been identifying gangs and their respective members for the past six to seven years.

Now is the time to develop a system to address the gang problem that exists throughout the Maryland prisons before it gets totally out of control. Some possible ideas might include:

Revamp the current classification system of inmates, so you might better separate those individuals and gang members not interested in programming and direct those valuable resources accordingly.

Separate members of gangs in different housing areas. Be creative in housing schemes for the sole purpose of managing these gangs.

Isolate and restrict those gang leaders and problem inmates in a separate institution in a lock down status (i.e., 23 hours a day) until that individual displays an attitude to participate in programs.

Apply appropriate security staff in adequate number who are properly trained in the issue of gangs. Training staff as you did 30 years ago will not work with today's problems.

Look at the gang membership closely during the parole process and do not support releasing an individual early unless substantial behavioral improvements have occurred.

If gang members involve themselves in gang activities, eliminate all earned credits for this behavior.

When one incident occurs in a prison, it has the potential to affect the entire system through retaliation and violent attacks among the different groups.

Summer arrived on June 21 and it appears temperatures are already beginning to rise in "the joint" between several gang factions.

Without a strong approach and direction to handle the various gangs within the prisons, many more ongoing disturbances can be expected. Handling these problems with an increasingly young and inexperienced staff, often frazzled by working so much overtime, is going to be a tough task at best.

With recruitment problems for correctional officers looking dismal, and few, if any, retired employees taking advantage of Del. LeReoy Myers' legislation to return them to the cell block, some creative thinking is needed to address the gang issue. This should be the Department of Public Safety's No. 1 priority if any other programs are to succeed, and violence is to be reduced in the Maryland prison system.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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