Gangs in Prisons


Since prisons are places where inmates experience a great deal of brutality and bullying, inmates have formulated gangs to protect themselves. These gangs operate both in prisons and out of prisons in a bid to perpetuate their criminal activities. The major reason as to why prison gangs are hard to eliminate is that the majority of gang leaders are serving life sentences, thus enabling them to perpetuate philosophies and beliefs of the gangs in prisons. The occurrence of prison gangs usually takes racial and cultural orientation for inmates with same backgrounds unite and champion for their rights and freedom in prisons. While some gangs are salient, most are mysterious and subtle. In this view, this term paper seeks to examine four gangs in prisons, viz. Aryan Brotherhood, Nazi Lowriders, the Mexican Mafia, and Black Guerrilla Family, and then describes keys issues associated with them.

The Aryan Brotherhood

The Aryan Brotherhood is one of the dominant prison gangs in the United States. The gang was formed in 1967 in a Californian prison, Quentin State Prison. Like other prison gangs, one of the objectives of this group is to protect their members from threats from other gangs. The gang is unique because it advocates for white supremacy in and out of prisons. As it advocates for white supremacy, it harbors racial beliefs that perceive Whites as superior to other races. Since 1967, the gang has grown and extended into other prisons in the United States. Currently, its population in prisons is about 20,000 and is increasing with time as its recruits more members (Brook, 2012, p.68). Owing to racial ideologies, the gang is made of only the whites.

The Aryan Brotherhood conduct organized criminal activities within and outside prisons, thus perpetuating crime in the American society. The gang members involve in criminal activities such as drug trafficking, inmate prostitution, extortion, and murder activities. Drug trafficking enables the gang to obtain financial resources, which they use in improving their lives in prisons, while conducting their criminal activities out of prison. Moreover, the gang members practice inmate prostitution, which has contributed to cases of sexual assault and rape in prisons. With their external influence, they extort money from people by threatening their lives. As they have external links, they are available for hire to conduct murder activities (Brook, 2012, p.106). The Federal Bureau of Investigation has established that the Aryan Brotherhood has the capacity to perpetrate criminal activities outside prisons, because its members link up with other gangs in the society.

Recruitment of new members requires a lifelong commitment. The gang is ruthless because inmates earn their memberships by killing somebody and vowing to die for the gang. Due to their racist ideology, they kill members of other gangs and races to gain membership of the Aryan Brotherhood. This aspect explains why the gang is responsible for about 20 per cent of murder cases that occur in prisons. They have a philosophy of “blood in – blood out”, which compels them not to unite with other races, for they are presumably superior (Brook, 2012, p.80). Thus, the major aim of the Aryan Brotherhood is to champion for the White supremacy using all means at their disposal.

The Nazi Low Riders

The Nazi Low Riders is “a major prison gang that is growing exponentially in Californian prisons” (Delgado, 2007, p.67). The gang emerged in California Youth Authority in the 1970s. Despite its humble origins, the Nazi Low Riders has expanded into many prisons in the United States, thus making it one of the dominant gangs in American prisons. The Nazi Low Riders emerged from the Aryan Brotherhood when the Californian police cracked down the members of the latter. Owing to their association with the Aryan Brotherhood, the gang perpetuates racial ideologies that advocate for the White supremacy. The main feature that identifies them in prisons is their proactive role in causing violence and brutalizing other inmates (Delgado, 2007, p.98). Therefore, the gang protects its members based on racial orientation by championing the white supremacy via violence.

The Nazi Low Riders conducts its criminal activities in and out of their prisons. In Southern California, the gang deals with drug trafficking by producing and distributing methamphetamine, which is an illegal drug. Its violent behavior towards inmates and prison staff emanates from the abuse of drugs. Additionally, members of the Nazi Low Riders perpetrate their criminal activities outside their prisons in a quest to earn money. Most of the notable criminal activities that members have conducted appear to have racial motivation. In 1996, the gang leaders brutally killed a teenage boy to death and stabbed a black man to death. The murder activities portrayed their brutality towards people of color.

For one to become a member, s/he must abide with the conditions of the gang. Given that it is a racist gang, which advocates for the supremacy of the whites, the blacks do not belong to the gang. White inmates take a serious oath. Prospective gang members must swear by the graves of their parents, wombs of their wives, and god that one will abide with the gang without fear of enemies or death in defending the rights of the Nazi Low Riders. The members consider themselves warriors with bloody covenant to help each other in times of peace and adversary until they die (Delgado, 2007, p.85). Examination of their oaths shows that members of this gang have the determination to do anything at the cost of their lives, thus making the Nazi Low Riders one of the most dangerous prison gangs.

The Mexican Mafia

The Mexican Mafia is one of the “oldest prison gangs in the United States because it was formed in the 1950s in Californian prisons” (Rafael, 2007, p.75). The gang comprises mainly the Hispanics because it originated from Hispanic street gangs in Los Angeles and its environs. The major objective of the gang is to protect its members from external threats from other inmates or gangs given that the prison environment is horrible. If one is not a member of any gang, most probably s/he will suffer from harassment and torture by different gangs and inmates. Hence, to rescue themselves, the Hispanics came up with the Mexican Mafia, which has become a powerful gang in Californian prisons.

The Mexican Mafia perpetuates criminal activities in and out of their prisons. The gang deals with drug trafficking, which has brought a great deal of resources and enabled it to continue with its criminal activities even if members are imprisoned. Moreover, the gang is responsible for most of the murder cases that occur in Los Angles and California. In 2010, the federal court indicted that members of the gang participated in drug trafficking, committing murders, and extorting money from the members of the public. The gang also cooperates with the Aryan Brotherhood in conducting their criminal activities and elevating the white supremacy in and out of the prisons (Rafael, 2007, p.111). Therefore, the gang is responsible for major killings that occur in California for they have vowed to continue with drug trafficking, committing murders, conducting robbery, and acquiring weapons.

Most of the Hispanic inmates belong to the Mexican Mafia because they want protection from rival inmates and gangs. The gang has stipulated harsh rules in which the members must comply with or risk facing punishment or even death. The rules stipulate that the members should not be homosexuals, informants, or cowards. Moreover, members should not fight, steal, or interfere with businesses of other members. The Hispanic inmates must comply with orders from the leader of the gang or face death. Thus, members must comply with the stipulated rules and orders for them to survive in prisons.

The Black Guerrilla Family

The Black Guerrilla Family is a major prison gang that covers mainly African-Americans. Black inmates formed the gang in 1996 in a Californian prison. The gang has political roots since it founder, George Jackson, is a former member of the Black Panther (Hagedorn, 2008, p.59). Since it originated from political activism, the gang has some form of organization. The objectives of the gang are to protect the black inmates and champions for the rights of the African Americans. As the Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Low Riders advocate for the white supremacy, they rival with the Black Guerrilla Family. Hence, the gang seeks to eliminate racism and improve perceptions of the African Americans in prisons.

The Black Guerrilla Family is a criminal gang because it involves itself with drug trafficking and abuse. Drug trafficking provides members with a source of money, which they use in expanding their criminal activities in and out of prisons. The gang also interacts with Islamic members to camouflage their criminal activities. The prison system is unable to control this gang because religious groups have privileges, which protect their gatherings as Islamic inmates in prisons (Hagedorn, 2008, p.64). Therefore, the Black Guerrilla Family contributes to criminal activities in the United States, as many of the incarcerated inmates are African Americans.

In a bid to become a member of the gang, one must be an African American because the gang advocates for the rights of the blacks. Additionally, given that the gang has political links, members must subscribe to rules and conditions of their oath. The gang has proper organization with well-structured rules of engagement. It has a charter, which explains its objectives and code of ethics that direct members on how to behave within the group. The gang also has oath of allegiance, which demands members to offer their lives for the sake of the gang’s interests.


Inmates in various prisons have formed gangs in a bid to protect themselves against threats from other inmates or prison gangs. In this case, gangs have their basis on racial orientations; for instance, Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Rider comprise the whites, Mexican Mafia constitutes Hispanics, while the Black Guerrilla Family is for African Americans. Moreover, prison gangs serve as a means perpetrating crimes such as drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, and murder. What is common across the gangs is taking the oath of allegiance. Members must take an oath to comply with ideologies, rules, and make a life-long commitment to their respective gangs.


Brook, J. (2010). Blood in blood out: The violent empire of the Aryan Brotherhood. Bodega Bay, CA: Headpress.

Delgado, B. (2007). Gangs, prisons, parole and the politics behind them. Maitland, FL:Xulon Press.

Hagedorn, M. (2008). A world of gangs: Armed young men and gangsta culture. Minneapolis, MN. University of Minnesota Press.

Rafael, T. (2007). The Mexican Mafia. New York, NY: Encounter Books.

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