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Gangs and Utah prisons

The social structure of Utah's prisons is evolving. The state's corrections officials need the resources to keep on top of a problem that has the potential to threaten staff and inmates: prison gangs.

While there always have been certain alliances among particular inmates, the deep racial divisions among Utah's prison population are a fairly recent phenomenon. The activities and potential threats these gangs pose are putting the staff of the Utah prison system to a test and again raise the issue of the importance of money — enough to adequately compensate experienced corrections officers who may be tempted to leave, and to provide ongoing training and close supervision once inmates are paroled.

According to parole agents, inmates are more likely to join a gang and stay loyal after their release. Some do the prison gang's bidding on the outside, which can escalate tensions on the inside.

While corrections officials are downplaying inmates' forewarning of white supremacist gang attacks, possibly this summer, tensions resulting from previous altercations between rival white supremacists and Latino gangs have resulted in a modified lockdown of correctional facilities statewide.

It is unfortunate that inmates who are not participating in gangs and are otherwise conducting themselves appropriately have been cut off from education courses, work programs and visitation rights, but this page is sensitive to the reality that prison officials are not flush with options. While society is better served when inmates are released from prison better educated and skilled than when they went in, day-to-day security must be an overriding concern.

Short of locking the entire prison down, it's difficult to prevent all gang activity. It is not illegal to belong to a gang, but such alliances have great potential to disrupt correctional facilities.

As such, corrections officials need an appropriate level of compensation and training so they can keep a step ahead of dangerous gang activity and channel inmates into activities that can help them improve their condition upon their eventual release. The public may view these problems as something remote that happen behind locked doors, but ultimately they could affect the lives of many innocent people.