Advertisement

Lloyd Waters: Address prison gangs or unlock the doors

July 14, 2013|By LLOYD WATERS

The prison gang problem has been the topic of many daily reports from the Department of Public Safety. Gang issues, too, have surfaced in local newspapers.

The gang problem is not going away.

When I began my career in corrections in 1969, there were several gangs in the Big House that tended to create problems. There was West Baltimore and East Baltimore; Washington gangs versus Baltimore; New York gangs; and other gangs that were created by mere association of people to form an alliance against the world.

Today, groups are still forming alliances.

The Bloods, the Crips, MS 13, Black Guerilla Family, and on and on and on.

For the last several years before my retirement in 2003, the Maryland Division of Correction took some notice to the increasing numbers of gangs within their prisons.

They created a gang task force, hired a person to lead a gang division and begin accumulating data and details on many gang members. I always thought that the collection of this information and identifying potential problem individuals in a prison system was a good idea.

I anxiously awaited the next step, and I continued to wait and wait for the next step. Unfortunately, the next step never came.

As gang activity raised its ugly head within the prison system, I always attempted to be proactive. In simple terms, my action was relatively simple.  If a gang member was identified in my prison and was placing other individuals in harm’s way or disrupting the normal operation of the prison, I would simply lock them up for 23 hours a day.

A lot of people like to think that is mean and despicable. The alternative is what you have been reading about at the Baltimore Detention Center.

There is a simple solution to the problem. Lock them up in a cell 23 hours a day until they renounce or discontinue participation in their gang activities during their incarceration and take advantage of prison programs.

Let them decide which way to go. Participate with a gang; stay locked up. Want to grow and learn and take advantage of existing programs (GED, Work, Self Help etc.)? Distance yourself from gang behaviors.

Often individuals within the Hagerstown prisons would act out to violent extremes simply to navigate a move back to the Penitentiary or Super Max to get closer to the culture of the city and their “homies.”

Psychologist B.F. Skinner would suggest that when these individuals act out in a negative way to obtain their objective, you only reinforce them by moving them to the city. I would often move them to a Western facility or an Eastern facility instead of returning them to Baltimore.

The Western Correctional Institution has about 1,700 beds. If there are 1,700 gang members in the system, why not convert that facility into an institution to segregate gang members coming into the system?

Gang members hate the mountains of Maryland. It’s too far from home.

Tough! Too Bad! If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s going to be the plan.

Every gang member begins a prison career in a very secure status. Give them every opportunity to progress; if they fail, return them to that lockup status.

I know mental health professionals and others will say that’s a pretty abusive idea. Is it any more abusive than letting them roam and control prison populations to the detriment of others by their many anti-social, self-centered and violent behaviors never before seen like at the Baltimore Detention Center?

Political leaders are distressed. The man we are paying to run a state prison system is supervising one troubled facility instead of addressing the bigger problem.

The gang problem is not going away by itself. Neither is it going to go away by talking about it.

Is Maryland serious about confronting the gang problem? We’ll see.


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

Advertisement
The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|