It is perhaps the emergence of gang life that has been the most significant development within prison sub- cultures throughout various state systems. In many texts on prisons and/or the world of corrections, there is a section on prison gangs. In most cases, these texts tend to present gang membership as isolated to the prison environment, with little emphasis on the notion that gang membership is permeable, found inside and outside the prison. Thus, while inmates may be gang members inside the prison, they do not simply discard membership once their sentence is served or when they are paroled out into society. Rather, their membership continues, and, in many cases, they will continue to answer to leadership who may still be locked up in prison. In other cases, they may be required to report to other leaders on the outside of the prison walls who will continue criminal work on behalf of the gang, plying their criminal trade on the streets and in broader society.

Conversely, many prison gang members were prior street gang members. Thus, an offender may engage in street gang criminal activity for a number of years, with short stints in jail being frequent. As noted earlier in this chapter, few inmates in state prison systems are locked up with long-term sentences for their first offense; rather they have typically committed several “priors” before that point, and some may have never even been detected by outside law enforcement. During their activity on the streets, these offenders will develop a reputation, particularly within their gang or their area of operation (if in an urban or a suburban setting) and will develop associations with other gang members. Once they finally do end up with a long-term sentence in a state facility, they have usually already embedded themselves within the gang structure on the outside that includes members who have been locked up inside the prison system.

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