Gang Leaders

Removing gang leaders from the general population also has the potential to create power vacuums that encourage violent encounters. Layered organizational structures can sometimes serve to constrain the aggressive and unruly tendencies of members. Those in charge have an interest in reigning in disorderly behavior so that the group’s plans are not exposed and administrative surveillance is not increased. When the leadership unravels, the organizational constraints loosen and members begin questioning who is in charge. This outcome can set the stage for physical confrontations to fill vacant leadership roles. Additionally, those engaging in prohibited activities, such as extortion and drug distribution, whether individually or in small groups may become emboldened and consequently more active in their misconduct due to the absence of a control-oriented leadership structure.


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Another possibility that may decrease the impact of the supermax incapacitation strategy relates to the realities of prison gang organizational structure. The counterarguments above assume that gangs are well organized in prisons. While hierarchical structures can exist in street and prison gangs, many gangs are not highly organized. In less organized gangs, leadership is transitory and members are less inclined to act on the instructions of a leader. For these types of gangs in prisons, placing the current leader in isolation may have limited influence on gang member behavior.


Inmates not affiliated with gangs are also capable of creating problems within prisons. One example is an inmate resistant to institutional control who takes every opportunity to destroy property and harass staff, such as tearing out sinks and toilets from walls and throwing fecal matter from cells at officers. The typical correctional response to this destructive behavior is placement in a segregation unit. However, if inmates engaging in such behavior are released from segregation only to continue the misconduct, the general prisoner population might interpret this as indicating that prison authorities and staff are unable to adequately handle such problems. Therefore, other inmates could be encouraged to defy prison authority merely from the example set by the unruly prisoner, and not from any specific orders or directions. These types of situations involving inmates who appear undeterred by prison authority are cited when analyzing the initial stages of prison riots.

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