Throughout the United States prison system, one of the most enduring and unique challenges that guards and administrators of the nation’s carceral institutions have had to face has been the threat posed by organized criminal gangs. Prison gangs are a nearly universal feature throughout most of the high-security penal complexes in the country. The reasons for the presence of these gangs are multifold. But it has largely been determined that allowing them to persist, while keeping a strong check on their worst excesses, is the least of all evils in running the nation’s prisons. Therefore, prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerilla Family and the Mexican Mafia are unlikely to be going anywhere any time soon.
But the presence of these gangs has meant that prisons guards and administrators have often faced serious and difficult challenges in maintaining order and security in the nation’s prisons and jails. One of the most serious threats to have emerged over the last 20 years has been the proliferation of contraband cellphones throughout the prison system. Starting in the late 90s, cellphones reached a level of miniaturization and low price that enabled them to be bought for just a few dollars and then easily smuggled into the country’s corrections institutions.
This posed a serious enough threat just based on the ability of inmates to completely circumvent the secure prison communications systems, thereby making illegal calls and potentially furthering criminal conspiracies. But the real existential threat to the country’s prison system came from the phones falling into the hands of gang leaders.
Unlike the ragtag street gangs of wannabe thugs engaging in petty crime that many people think of when they hear about gang activity, prison gangs are more resembling of an old-style Mafia family. Far from young punks, prison gang leaders are often highly intelligent, well-read and as ruthless as the most famous Mafia figures. Prison gangs are usually modeled on a military-style hierarchy, requiring their members to maintain certain levels of physical fitness and combat readiness. And unlike street gangs, who frequently engage in pointless fighting and undisciplined violence, prison gangs typically have one singular goal: maximizing profits.
These things mean that prisons gangs often act more like highly efficient corporations than loose bands of hoodlums. This can make them supremely dangerous to the safety of penal institutions and the public. Prison gangs have been known to use cellphones to order the intimidation of witnesses, to threaten prosecutors and law enforcement and to murder prison staff.
Now, Securus Technologies is working to spread adoption of its Wireless Containment System, a device capable of shutting down nearly 100 percent of illegal cellular calls from inside prisons. Securus says that its WCS has the potential to permanently remove illegal cellphones from the toolkit of ruthless criminal gangs.