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Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

Idaho Authorities Attempt to Deal with Gangs Inside and Outside of Prison

May 24, 2012
BOISE -- Police and prosecutors have gotten aggressive with gang members around here and are sending them to prison, but gang activity continues.  Some members successfully get out of a gang in prison and don't go back.  But others get even more involved with gang activity, and some inmates join while incarcerated. The problems inside the prison can impact the community outside the fence.  The Idaho Department of Correction says some incarcerated gang members are still finding ways to call the shots on the outside and most will eventually be released. "Most of the street gangs are actually controlled by their leaders that are inside the prison system," Deputy Warden Tim Higgins said. Idaho's prisons do have different programs and ways to try and deter gang activity and stop gang leaders from the inside.  With some inmates, those programs work, but it's impossible to stop all of the activity. Every male convict in Idaho comes through the Reception and Diagnostic Unit, or RDU, at the medium-security prison in Kuna.  It's where the IDOC decides where someone will serve their time and who they'll be placed with.  The decision depends on a number of different factors, including gang involvement. The IDOC says 20 percent of prisoners are also gang members, who are responsible for the majority of assaults against other inmates and staff. "From our standpoint, it's about 20 percent of our population that presents about 80 percent of our problem," IDOC Director Brent Reinke said. To combat the gang problem, Reinke explains Idaho uses an uncommon philosophy: Integrate the gang members.  Gang members are housed with other non-gang affiliated inmates and can be placed in the same units as rivals.  Prison officials say integration breaks up the power a gang might have by housing members of the same gang together. "We believe that's a very important element in keeping our facilities safe. These people are going to be living together on the streets. They can live together behind the fence," Reinke said.