The U.S. Department of Justice recognizes a prison gang as a criminal organization founded in the penal system and operates within correctional facilities throughout the country.
In most cases, each of these gangs has developed a hierarchy and is governed by a particular code of conduct. Nuestra Familia and Aryan Brotherhood are among the most highly structured gangs, while Mexican Mafia is less formalized.
Once established, a prison gang almost always gets involved in criminal activities outside prison.
For example, prison gangs control the distribution of narcotics inside correctional facilities or play the intermediary in drug-trafficking activities outside the jail.
They are more prominent in the state penal system rather than in federal correctional facilities.
Although the members are likely fewer compared to street gangs, let us not forget that the United States incarcerates a substantial proportion of its citizens, with around 1.5 million people imprisoned at any given time.
Tens of thousands of them are members of some of the most notorious prison gangs in the United States.
10 /10 Barrio Azteca
Most active in Texas prisons, Barrio Azteca is powered by around 2,000 known members. Not all of them are actually in prison; outside of the state’s penal system, the gang has a prominent presence in southeastern New Mexico and southwestern Texas.
They are known to have been involved in all sorts of dangerous illegal activities, including robbery, extortion, kidnapping, arson, auto theft, and burglary.
However, the gang’s primary source of income is drug trafficking, specifically by smuggling heroin and cocaine from Mexico to the United States for distribution inside and outside prisons.
9 /10 Black Guerrilla Family
George Lester Jackson, the radical African-American activist who was convicted for armed robbery in 1961, played a vital role in the Black Guerrilla Family’s birth while serving his time in San Quentin State Prison. The gang remains active and has expanded its activities outside prisons as well.
Today it has around 1,000 identified members and many more associates. Black Guerrilla Family is a highly organized gang with a clear hierarchy, including a central committee and supreme leader.
It operates mainly in Maryland and California, raking in money from drug trafficking and violent crimes.