The Aryan Brotherhood and the prison-gang problem

Lawless, overcrowded prisons are machines for producing Nazis.

So far, it’s not clear whether the Texas chapter of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang is carrying out a systematic assassination campaign against criminal justice officials. What is clear is that America’s overcrowded, lawless prison systems are a machine for transforming apolitical white prisoners into committed violent racists by forcing them into neo-Nazi gangs for self-protection. Black and Latino prisoners are forced into their own gangs, but those tend to be purely criminal rather than political. This should be regarded as a crisis; currently it isn’t. And no, SuperMax is not a solution.

David Skarbek of University College London has a fascinating book on the larger problem coming out from Oxford. Watch for it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

12 thoughts on “The Aryan Brotherhood and the prison-gang problem”

  1. Misplaced modifier fail: “David Skarbek of University College London has a fascinating book on the larger problem coming out from Oxford.”

    Mark, I don’t think you meant to write that the Aryan Brotherhood has its origins in Oxford. Though I guess it’s possible…

  2. Spotted a few months back at the local library’s “Day of Literacy and Play” for the preschool set: A mousy, conservatively dressed woman with a couple of moppets in tow — maybe pregnant with another — and the heavily tattooed man in her life. At first I just thought, “Man, people have a lot of tattoos in this town lately.” Then, as I stood next to the gent near the crafts table, I noticed the swastika and prominent “88” in the mix — not a tribute to Oldsmobile, I’m sure.

    Swastika on the calf of a gent outside the Raley’s supermarket just last week, then at a Seder on Saturday, I heard tell of a kids birthday party where an uncle was sporting the full-back swastika tattoo.

    Is prison where it’s all coming from? Reassuring in a way, at least in that it makes a bit of sense and I can’t imagine, otherwise, why young men in Redding would embrace that Aryan poison.

    I wonder if they’re just a bit more visible because, thanks to AB 109, they’re no longer in prison. Hey, maybe in the long run there’s hope.

  3. ” Black and Latino prisoners are forced into their own gangs, but those tend to be purely criminal rather than political.”

    I don’t generally do this, but after a discussion of “factoids” elsewhere, I guess I’m gonna: Cite?

    On the larger problem, the psychological problems created by solitary confinement are horrible, but you don’t need to throw twenty sociopaths into the same crowded room to avoid them. Just seeing and being able to talk to other people will prevent somebody from going bonkers, they don’t have to actually touch other people, or be provided opportunities to knife them. Air gaps don’t prevent social interaction.

    Not that social interaction with other sociopaths is ideal. Ideally prisoners should never get to interact with each other, only with people who aren’t confirmed violators. A bit challenging to manage, I wonder if software agents are sufficiently advanced yet?

    I believe prison violence has some clear solutions, and they’re not Supermax. But they’re not touchy feely, either. Precisely not touchy feely.

    1. “Ideally prisoners should never get to interact with each other…”
      This nightmare vision goes back to Bentham’s Panopticon. Don’t you see prisoners as (delinquent) fellow-citizens with fundamental rights, including the society of others?

      1. I see criminals as exactly the population you don’t want people you’re theoretically trying to rehabilitate in regular communiation with. You want them to have some kind of social life, but, ideally, <b<not with other criminals. Difficult to manage when most non-criminals are not eager to be in regular contact, even virtual, with criminals, but sill the ideal.

        So, no, I don’t think the ideal is for prisoners to have social interaction with other prisoners. I think the ideal is for them to have social interaction, but with anybody BUT other prisoners.

        But the fundamental point is that you don’t need physical contact with other people to gain the benefits of social interaction, and avoid the nightmarish results of prolonged solitary confinement. You just need social interaction. That can be across an air gap, or through lexan, or even videoconferencing. It doesn’t have to provide opportunities for assault.

    2. Brett,
      You might want to read up a bit on Japanese penology. It is not at all touchy feely. But it is reasonably social, and does not involve software.

      1. I suppose I’ve heard as many good things about the Japanese penal system, as I have bad things about their trial system, the substance of which was, if you’re guilty, there are few places better to wind up than a Japanese prison… And if you’re innocent, you do NOT want to end up in a Japanese court.

        But can either be separated from the Japanese culture? Would the Japanese penal system work with an American criminal population?

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