Prison Gangs: History, Types & Statistics

Instructor: Janell Blanco
This lesson will discuss the history of prison gangs. The lesson will also identify the different types of prison gangs and the statistics of gangs within the prison.

Types of Prison Gangs

Prison gangs are defined as criminal organizations that are formed in the penal system and operate within the prison facilities of the United States. Each gang has established symbols and ways members indicate they belong to that gang. These prison gangs were established at various prisons during different decades, and gangs are still present in the prison systems today.

Nationally, there are six major prison gangs that are recognized. The six gangs are the Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerilla Family (BGF), La Nuestra Familia (NF), Mexican Mafia (EME), Neta, and Texas Syndicate (TS).

Aryan Brotherhood

The Aryan Brotherhood started in the San Quentin prison in California in 1967. The gang is made up of white males. Initiation into the group comes from other members, and members are required to make a life-long commitment.

From 1975-1985, there were 40 homicides in California prisons and jails committed by AB members. AB members, suspects, and associates in the federal prisons were responsible for 26 homicides. Three of the victims from 1978-1992 were staff members. Along with the violent attacks on other inmates and prison staff, AB members are known to distribute contraband, such as drugs and cell phones, throughout the prison system.

The Aryan Brotherhood gang is symbolized by any of the following symbols:

  • Clover leaf
  • Initials 'AB'
  • Double lightening bolts
  • The numbers '666'

Aryan Brotherhood members use any combination of the previous symbols along with the state name in the tattoo to symbolize belonging to the gang. An example of an Aryan Brotherhood tattoo is pictured, which incorporates the swastika, the 'AB' initials, and the state name of Texas.

Aryan Brotherhood

Black Guerilla Family

BGF was founded in San Quentin in 1966 by George Jackson, whom was a former Black Panther.The BGF gang members are symbolized by the initial 'BGF' or a dragon overtaking a prison or a prison tower.

BFG gang tattoo
BGF Gang

The BGF gang members are black males, and they recruit street gang members when they become incarcerated. In order to be a member of the gang, the members have to pledge to stay in the gang for life or take a death oath.

BGF members are considered a danger to law enforcement and political officials because one of their reasons for existence is to overthrow the United States government. The BGF gang works well with the La Nuestra Familia gang and their rivals include AB and EME.

La Nuestra Familia

This prison gang formed in Soledad prison in California in the mid-1960s. NF was established to protect younger, rural-Mexican inmates from the EME. Even though NF has a street gang, the street gang and the prison gang have different organizational chains of command. NF members are Mexican and Hispanic males. They pledge to be in the gang for life, and if they are released from prison, they become part of the NF street gang.

Members of the NF gang wear red flags to identify their affiliation with the gang. They also have the letter 'N' or the number '14' for the 14th letter of the alphabet in tattoos. Additionally, a sombrero with a dagger can symbolize NF members. NF's main rival is the EME gang and their allies include the BGF.

Mexican Mafia (EME)

In the late-1950s EME was formed at the Duel Vocational Center, a center for troubled youth, in California. The gang was formed by the youth members of another Los Angeles gang. The members of the gang are male Mexican-American or Hispanics. The EME gang members value their wives and girlfriends as the females are a major part of the drug transportation and financial transactions of the gang.

Symbols that represent the Mexican Mafia include the Mexican flag with an eagle or a snake tattooed in or near the flag. A tattoo of a black hand print or the letters 'EME' tattooed on the inmates body also signify affiliation with the gang.

EME members are considered violent. The members of the gang use murder as a way to gain respect or as a way of disciplining a member who has violated the gang's rules. The EME will provide protection to gangs that are considered allies, such as AB and La Costa Nostra, which is a gang not in the recognized six gangs.

Neta Gang

The Neta was established by an inmate in the Rio Pedras Prison in Puerto Rico in 1970. The gang is made up of Puerto Rican-American and Hispanic males. To show they are members of the gang, the men wear red, black, or white beads or bandanas.

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