Incentives Would Lessen Lure of Prison Gangs

By · Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Kassandra Fraga commented on my article entitled Prison Reforms Can Help Solve Gang Problems. She wondered whether I thought most prisoners would take advantage of opportunities to earn incentives rather than succumb to gang influences. Kassandra also asked how I thought prison gangs would respond to those who pursued incentives.

My experience of living in prison for more than 21 years, together with what I’ve learned from interviewing hundreds of other prisoners, convince me that prison gangs come together and proliferate as a consequence of hopelessness and despair. The men feel oppressed and as if they are incapable of changing their lives for the better. Sometimes they feel political motivations and band together in an effort to control the subculture that exists within prison boundaries. Prisoners who serve life sentences sometimes participate in gangs that reach beyond prison walls and into society. The gangs are a human response to perceived oppression. Since the men feel as if they cannot participate in the fabric of American society, they respond by forming their own society.

Certainly, law-abiding citizens need prisons to isolate those who live as predators who threaten others. Yet when prison administrators obliterate hope for those in prison, they create a culture that allows the wicked influences of prison gangs to spread. My experience suggests that a responsible use of incentives will motivate more people in prison to pursue positive adjustment patterns and reject gang influences.

Those incentives must be meaningful to lift the despair of men who serve years apart from their family members. I suggest that by offering prisoners a clear path through which they can earn gradual increases in freedom, administrators would succeed in encouraging more men to pursue paths that will help them emerge from prison successfully.

Despite the 21 years I’ve served in prison, I remain filled with hope, optimism, and every individual’s capacity to grow. If prison administrators initiated reforms that offered opportunities for those in prison to find meaning in their lives, I am convinced that more prisoners would pursue positive adjustments. Not all prisoners, as some men live cursed with psychopathic disorders. Yet with a logical incentive program, a program that offered objective paths to earn freedom through merit, more prisoners would work toward reconciling with society.

If prisoners found such hope, many more would feel inspired. Those who gravitate toward the negative influences of the penitentiary struggle with misconceptions that regardless of what they do, they cannot make it in society. I feel convinced that administrators can do a better job of changing such perceptions.

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One Response to “Incentives Would Lessen Lure of Prison Gangs”

  1. Sean Thornton says:

    Dear Michael Santos,

    I did enjoy reading your article about how incentives would lessen the Lure of Prison Gangs; I wish I read it sooner. I have Zero experience when it comes to prison life, gangs or anything of that nature. All I know is what I learn in the classroom as a criminal justice major and speaking to police officers. You believe that if the prison offered hope, that those who feel hopeless would then turn away from those who are negative and work to fight for those incentives. I have a few questions for you, 1) what are a few examples of the incentives, which the prison should, proved to keep men away from gangs? 2) Isn’t joining a gang more about protection than it is about having no hope in life? 3) Most prisoners only serve 50% of their prison term, isn’t that incentive enough? 4) And for those who are got life, in a way aren’t those the people who deserve to be in prison for life? That regardless if they get out of prison, same day, they would only go back to their original way of life (hints why they got life)?