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Female prisoners have reported experiencing degrading and sexually explicit language and frequent harassment from guards. If a prisoner protests or files an appeal to the prison administration, it can potentially mean more mistreatment, limited privileges or an increased sentence in retaliation.

It is in this powerless environment that some prisoners have endured sexual assault from guards. Human Rights Watch. The media rules prohibit reporters from scheduling news interviews with specific prisoners.

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Under the new rules, reporters may only interview individuals that the prison determines available. The new constraints make it far more difficult for the media to obtain the testimonies of prisoners who may claim similar abuses. California Prison and Jail Information Directory The following list of California prisons and jails that contains useful information you will need to know if you have a friend or family member incarcerated.

Gangs Who Defied The Mexican Mafia

California Correctional Center. California Correctional Institution. California Institution for Men. California Institution for Women. California Medical Facility. California Rehabilitation Center. California State Prison, Corcoran. California State Prison, Sacramento. But when they are banned, other currencies take their place.

California inmates now use postage stamps. After all, as Skarbek notes, California had prisons for nearly a century before the first documented gang appeared. The explanation, Skarbek says, can be found in demographics, and in inmate memoirs and interviews. But starting in the s, things changed: The total inmate population rose steeply, and prisons grew bigger, more ethnically and racially mixed, and more unpredictable in their types of inmate.

Prisons faced a flood of first offenders, who tended to be young and male—and therefore less receptive to the advice of grizzled jailbirds. The norms that made prison life tolerable disappeared, and the authorities lost control. Prisoners banded together for self-protection—and later, for profit. The result was the first California prison gang. That moment of gang genesis, Skarbek says, forced an arms race, in which different groups took turns demonstrating a willingness to inflict pain on others. The arms race has barely stopped, although the gangs have waxed and waned in relative power.

The Black Guerrilla Family has been weakened, prison authorities told me, because of leadership squabbles. The Mexican Mafia was the sole Hispanic gang until , when a group of inmates from Northern California formed Nuestra Familia to counter the influence of Hispanics from the south. Gang elders—called maestros—instruct the youngsters in gang history and keep the enmity alive. For example, consider the Aryan Brotherhood—a notoriously brutal organization whose members are often kept alone in cells because they tend to murder their cell mates.

Death row prisoner killed 'by fellow inmate' at San Quentin in California | The Independent

You can take the Brotherhood at its word when it declares itself a racist organization, and you can do the same with the Black Guerrilla Family, which preaches race war and calls for the violent overthrow of the government. But Skarbek says that at lights-out in some prisons, the leader of each gang will call out good night to his entire cellblock. If a white guy starts yelling and keeps everyone awake, the Aryan Brothers will discipline him to avoid having blacks or Hispanics attack one of their members. White power is one thing, but the need to keep order and get shut-eye is paramount.

Another common misconception about prison gangs is that they are simply street gangs that have been locked up.


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The story of their origins, however, is closer to the opposite: the Mexican Mafia, for example, was born at Deuel Vocational Institution, in Tracy, California, in , and only later did that group, and others, become a presence on the streets. Today, the relation of the street to the cellblock is symbiotic. But Skarbek says the prison gangs serve another function for street criminals.

In a paper in American Political Science Review , he proposed that prison is a necessary enforcement mechanism for drug crime on the outside. If everyone in the criminal underworld will go to prison eventually, or has a close relationship with someone who will, and if everybody knows that gangs control the fate of all inmates, then criminals on the street will be afraid to cross gang members there, because at some point they, or someone they know, will have to pay on the inside.

Under this model, prison gangs are the courts and sheriffs for people whose business is too shady to be able to count on justice from the usual sources. Using data from federal indictments of members of the Mexican Mafia, and other legal documents, Skarbek found that the control of prisons by gangs leads to smoother transactions in the outside criminal world. Skarbek says one sign that the BNL is a rationally deployed tool, rather than just a haphazard vengeance mechanism, is that gangs are fastidious about removing names from the list when debts are paid.

No scholar writing in the law-abiding world, I was told by guards at Pelican Bay, can capture the reality of prison life in all its brutality. I was prepared for that to be true, even just based on my own reading. In , Don Diva magazine interviewed a former guard at Rikers Island, who described the conditions of prison life in vivid terms. But I found that the staff at Pelican Bay had already been thinking about prisons the way Skarbek does. One of the last slides featured a picture of the Chrysler chairman and s business icon Lee Iacocca.

And he could do that just from his management strategy: he never turned a wrench on a car, never assembled a door. But because of his ideas, they could make millions of dollars.

The 28 Most Dangerous Prisons in America

Since that presentation, I have found it impossible to look at a picture of Iacocca without imagining him stuffing his cheeks and rectum with razor blades. Pelican Bay opened in as an upgraded version of two famous old California prisons, San Quentin and Folsom, both of which still house inmates but function, as they always have, like enormous holding pens, hardly optimal for supervising a population of violent psychopaths who plot constantly to subvert the rules of the institution.

The walkways were narrow, and exposed prisoners to each other in ways that encouraged attacks. The population is sectioned into yards and blocks that might have little contact with one another, and that allow the inmates to be managed with special attention to their gang affiliation. Upon identifying a gang member, the prison can modulate his location, freedom, and level of surveillance, to a degree that inmates have called stifling and inhumane.

On every cellblock at Pelican Bay, the guards post plastic identity cards on the wall, to keep track of which inmate is in which cell. The information is crucial to the smooth running of the institution. Maintaining balance in a cellblock, and not putting a lone gang member in a situation where he might be surrounded by members of a rival gang, requires constant attention on the part of the corrections officers.

Out in the yard, when Acosta and I watched the inmates gather by gang, the guards knew exactly what was happening, and they could have intervened and broken up obvious gang activity.

Cruel and Unusual: A Guide to California’s Broken Prisons and the Fight to Fix Them

And it was obvious: nearly all gang members have gang tattoos across their torsos, and some have markings on their faces too. Each interaction we observed between a correctional officer and a prisoner resembled bargain more than diktat. Before yard time finished, the guards let me inspect cells with them. The cells were livable, especially in comparison to the Rikers Island ones I had read about, even if the whole block had a dank locker-room smell. It was blunt and had a wire attached.

A shatter-toothed Aryan Brother smiled at me and said he could send a book to an adjacent cell this way. The fishlines work as a way to distribute contraband, but are also used, Skarbek told me, as a sort of corporate communications system—like pneumatic tubes for prisoners. The messages inmates send include extensive questionnaires for new arrivals.

Nuestra Familia is particularly sophisticated, and, in a sure sign of bureaucratization, the gang even has an initialism for its new-arrival questionnaire: NAQ. But it could also ask where you lived on the outside and what resources you have that could be valuable to the gang. The questionnaires are collated and checked. At some prisons, inmates use their cellphones to confirm details on Facebook, and Skarbek says they have been known to open LexisNexis accounts.

9. Rikers Island

These activity reports circulate around the prison system. Finding kites is difficult, because guards cannot cavity-search every inmate every day. The only way to control known gang members is to confine them under strict conditions that make communication almost, but not quite, impossible—no freedom of movement or circulation with the general prison population, for example, and only rare, carefully monitored visits. Over the years, California has tried two broad strategies for gang management. The first was to break up gangs and scatter their members to distant prisons where their influence would be divided and diluted.

In every direction there is little more than redwoods, marijuana farms, and seacoast. More important, Pelican Bay has the facilities and knowledge necessary to isolate and neutralize gang members. In Sacramento, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has posters on the wall showing mug shots of all the major gang leaders—the Lee Iacoccas, Steve Jobses, and Henry Fords of the underworld—grouped by the prisons they live in. Of course, there are ways to control inmates that American prisons have never tried on a large scale.

We could easily replicate less enlightened penal practices, too.

Walking into the SHU feels like entering a sacred space.