Monitoring Gangs in Texas Prisons and Beyond

Illustration of gang members behind bars.

Emil Garza, the head of the Security Threat Group Management Office at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, will discuss gangs in Texas state prisons as part of a special presentation on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. in the CJ Courtroom.

Garza’s office is responsible for the safety and security of staff and offenders in the department’s 111 units housing more than 150,000 offenders. Through intelligence and analysis, the Unit provides oversight, training, and technical support to unit level staff on gang-related issues. The group also works closely with the TDCJ Fusion Center and law enforcement agencies to share information on gangs in and outside correctional facilities.

Photo of grafetti beyond a fence.Garza has served in TDCJ since 1994 and provides training to criminal Justice professionals at the local, state and federal levels and advises law enforcement agencies on emerging trends. He also provides anti-gang presentations to public and private schools, and briefings on gangs to the Texas Legislature as well as out-of-state and international law enforcement agencies. Finally, he testifies as an expert witness in criminal courts on gang-related matters.

Tango Blast tatoo on hands.The TDCJ recognizes 12 security threat groups in prisons, including Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, Aryan Circle, Barrio Azteca, Bloods, Crips, Hermanos De Pisooleros Latinos, Mexican Mafia, Partido Revolucionario Mexicanos, Raza Unida, Texas Chicano Brotherhood, Texas Mafia and the Texas Syndicate.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2012 Gang Threat Assessment, the level of violence associated with gang activity can be demonstrated by top offenses committed by members of significant gangs incarcerated in Texas prisons. More than half of the gang members are serving offenses for violent crimes, including robbery (25 percent), homicide (14 percent), and assault/terroristic threat (12 percent).

Some offenders join gangs to exert influence and take advantage of other offenders and use whatever means necessary to control their environment. Some join gangs for protection, but put themselves in more danger because rival gangs become enemies, according to “On the Inside” a brochure for offenders and their families on prison gangs.
A MS-13 gang tattoo.While gangs are secretive, they often use specific tattoos, hand signs and terminology to identify and communicate with each other. They often threaten and extort money from offender’s families or force offenders into illegal activities, the brochure said.

To control gangs, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice uses several strategies, include limiting visits or contacts, restricting participation in academic or vocational activities, eliminating work assignments, restricting movement, placing offenders in administrative segregation, providing notice to law enforcement agency upon release, or addressing issue at parole.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice also offers a program to help offenders get out of gangs. Called Gang Renouncement and Disassociation Process, the program require offenders to renounce their membership and affiliation in writing and undergo an investigation to verify those actions.

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