Gang membership is strongly motivated by a prisoner’s sense of identity. Through being a member of a gang, they are able to identify themselves as being part of something greater and more important than themselves. As warden, my policy to reduce gang membership in my prison would involve two focal points: direct the inmates’ senses of identity away from their gangs and direct the inmates’ senses of identity toward something positive and unifying.
In order to redirect the inmates’ senses of identity away from gang membership, I would institute a policy that would forbid prisoners from wearing gang-related, racist, and violent tattoos, whether the tattoos were obtained before they came to prison or acquired while they were incarcerated. Tattoos are not only a way through which gang members identify one another, but they are also symbolic of connection that a gang member has with those around him. While the presence of these tattoos in these tattoos encourages division between inmates, as the proved the person wearing the tattoo to “flaunt” it and provoke members of rival gangs, the removal of these types of tattoos from this prison will get rid of an obvious and physical symbol of hostility and division. This policy is in keeping with other policies forbidding inmates from wearing certain types of clothing in ways that identify them as members of a particular gang. Because of the symbolic significance that these tattoos have for the people who wear them, it is my thinking that a person without gang tattoos will be more likely to disassociate himself from his gang than a person with the tattoos. Implementation of this policy would involve the close inspection of an inmate’s tattoo by a gang expert when he enters the prison and periodic inspection for the duration of his stay to ensure that the prisoner does not receive any such tattoos while incarcerated. When found, these tattoos will be cosmetically removed with the inmates being given the necessary medical care.
In order to direct the inmates’ sense of identity toward something more positive and less divisive, I would institute a policy that would make the amount of recreation an inmate receives contingent upon his participation in team sports. For example, if inmates get two hours a day in the exercise yard, the policy would allow them two or three additional hours per day provided they spend the time participating in a team sport; if they decline to participate, they will continue to receive the standard amount of recreation time. The teams would be selected in such a way that gang members would be scattered throughout different teams. Given the extra recreational time that participating in team sports would yield them, prisoners would take their team membership seriously. This would accomplish two things which are crucial to redirecting their senses of identity from gang membership and towards something more positive. First, it would teach them to look at the other members of their gangs as competitors and rivals; this will serve to undermine the cohesion of the gangs. Second, it will force inmates to cooperate with members of other gangs in the pursuit of a common goal; this will further serve to disassociate individual gang members from their gangs, and the bond created a bond between team members will decrease the animosity between those teammates who are in different or opposing gangs.
Gang membership is closely related to a member’s sense of identity, and it's not only seen in prison but in the military as well. I believe that, in the context of a prison environment, these two policies will go a long way toward reducing gang membership and activity. The policy forbidding gang-related, violent, and racist tattoos will remove one of the things that make gang members easily identifiable to one another and to rival gangs and disconnect gang members from their gangs in a significant way as they can no longer express their loyalty through tattoos. The policy which incentivizes participation team sports will give inmates a way to redirect their sense of identity from gang membership to team membership and will create a context in which members of rival gangs work together against members of their own gangs; this will undermine the cohesion of the gangs and, at the same time, foster a sense of camaraderie between rival gang members.