The Gang System in Prisons

According to the United States Department of Justice, prison gangs are “self-perpetuating criminal entities that can continue their operations outside the confines of the penal system.” A prison gang is usually made up of several inmates who have “an organized hierarchy and who are governed by an established code of conduct.” Across the country and the world, prison gangs are a threat because they play a role in distributing and transporting drugs. These gangs are much more prevalent in a state prison facility than a federal prison system. 

Why Are Prison Gangs on the Rise? 

A political scientist named David Skarbek believes that prison gangs are on the rise because of the increase in the prison population, overcrowding, and the need for inmate’s safety. Most gangs are racially and geographically divided, and, to my surprise, Texas and California account for 70 percent of prison gang members. 

Some of the most common prison gangs today are the Mexican Mafia, Neustra Familia, Fresno Bulldogs, Latin Kings, Netas, United Blood Nation, Folk Nation, Gangster Disciples, Dirty White Boys, Aryan Brotherhood, European Kindred, Dead Man Incorporated, 211 Crew, Nazi Lowriders, the Black Guerrilla Family, People Nation, The Barrio Azteca, Mexikanemi, and Simon City Royals. 

It is important to know that the prison gangs also have members outside of the prison walls, which are known to be smugglers, informants, and drug dealers. Even though prison gangs were not common until the 1960s, they have quickly become one of the largest criminal organizations to date. 

Do Prison Gangs Account for Most of the Violence in Prisons? 

When it comes to the gang system in prisons, these members have an established history of violence. As a matter of fact, gang members typically account for majority of misconduct cases in the prison system. In addition, they are known to be dangerous and aggressive toward new inmates and the correctional officers. A new inmate may be recruited to one of the gangs quickly if he shows potential when it comes to his aggressiveness and ability to fight. 

What Do Prison Gangs do? 

One of the main duties of gangs is to provide what inmates cannot easily get in prison. For example, gangs have access to cigarettes, foods, alcohol, and narcotics. If a person wants to get involved with these trades, they most likely will have to communicate with a gang member, which may result in some sort of deal. 

Prison gangs use violence to handle any disputes or disagreements, protect their members and interests, and to provide discipline to their members and non-members. The most popular reasons as to why someone would join a prison gang is because they needed protection and status. In fact, most people who were interviewed from prison stated that avoiding gangs in prison is harder than when not in prison. 

It is common for gangs to enter the prison system from off the street. However, a lot of inmates join a gang for the first time in prison. When a new inmate enters a prison, they are often quickly recruited. When a person does not want to join a prison gang, they usually must give a good reason such as religion. A lot of times they will also lie and say they are a sex offender because most prison gangs do not accept individuals who are serving time for any type of sex crime. 


Skarbek has spent years studying prison gangs, which has led him to the conclusion that they function like a “community responsibility system.” Instead of knowing an individual person’s reputation, the inmates will focus on the gang’s reputation. This gives them a sense of community, safety, and a family-like environment while they are serving their sentences.

Child Care & Pregnancy Inside US Prisons

Is there anything harder to imagine than a baby in a prison cell? Nearly 3 million children 18 and younger have a parent behind bars. Roughly 58,000 pregnant women are incarcerated each year, and thousands of them give birth while serving their time. 

While it may seem unfathomable to someone on the outside, life behind bars encapsulates every facet of someone’s being, including parenthood. Becoming a mother as a convicted prisoner is something thousands of women face each year. While their own care is important enough, the effects of being born in prison is something even more relevant to study. 

You might not think a child can be raised in prison, but there are actually programs in place to keep mothers and newborns together during one of the most critical periods of a child’s life. 

What Happens if You Find Out You’re Pregnant in Prison?

Women can request a pregnancy test in prison, but they can’t be forced to take one. Being pregnant in prison is not a crime, but if a woman becomes pregnant during her sentencing, an investigation will likely be made into how that occurred.

If the baby is fathered by a prison faculty member, such as a guard, then a further case will be made as this is a breach of conduct on the staff’s behalf. 

Women in prison also have the right to an abortion and pregnancy care. If a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy, then the appropriate arrangements will be made. For those who decide to carry their babies to term, they will receive medical care from a professional doctor according to the state’s prenatal care guidelines. 

When she goes into labor, the mother is taken to the nearest hospital to give birth. During that time, she will be handcuffed to the bed, and armed guards will stand outside her door. 

Can You Keep a Baby in Prison?

In many prisons, babies can stay with their mothers until they reach a certain age, usually between 18 months and 3 years. In other states, babies must immediately go into the care of an appointed caretaker, such as a grandparent, or enter foster care. 

Child care programs are available, but they have strict criteria and often limited availability. Mothers who are violent offenders, for example, are often not permitted to participate in any parenting programs after birth. 

In some facilities, prison nurseries help mothers bond with their babies and give them the best possible care despite their sentences. 

Whenever possible, it’s important for children to remain with their mothers in a safe and secure environment. There are currently only eight prison nurseries in the United States, which strive to prevent the traumatic separation of mother and baby after birth. 

The Future of Parenting Behind Bars

Depending on the state, some women will remain with their babies in prison for months after they’re born. In others, the children are handed off to family members or placed in foster care. 

Some states allow mothers to have visitation with their babies, even if they are not the ones responsible for their care. Custody rights all depend on the woman, her crimes, and her sentence. The legalities surrounding motherhood in prison are highly personal and vary just as much by state as they do by individual. 


While there may be understandable reasons a child shouldn’t remain with a mother after birth, many people believe that no matter what she’s done, a baby should be able to stay with its mother to form a healthy bond.

Many mothers will leave prison, be able to prove they can care for their children, and gain custody. Others will remain a part of their life with someone else as the primary caretaker.

Ultimately, more programs for mothers behind bars can help ensure every baby gets the healthiest and safest start to life, regardless of their mother’s criminal record.