Prison gang numbers down, report says

Nearly 800 inmates held at Lebanon Correctional Institute are members of prison gangs — the highest number at any of the state’s 28 prisons, according to a report issued this week on “security threat groups.”

The Correctional Institution Inspection Committee said in its report that 8,171 Ohio inmates, or 16.2 percent, are affiliated with security threat groups such as the Heartless Felons, Gangster Disciples, Aryan Brotherhood and Konvicted Family. The report also said gang membership is down 12.9 percent this year compared with 2012.

Prison gangs are highly organized with membership tattoos, codes of conduct, hierarchies, and the capacity to communicate within and between prisons, the report said. To promote power and prestige, they’re engaged in criminal activity such as assaults, thefts, gambling, extortion and trafficking in drugs, tobacco, cell phones and other contraband, the report said.

Gangs are at the heart of violent episodes, and disputes over contraband smuggling and sales controlled by gangs can lead to more violence, said Ed Voorhies, managing director of operations for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Last year, security threat group members accounted for 16 percent of the prison population but were involved in 33.8 percent of known violent rules infractions, he said.

“They are at the root of prison violence from a variety of factors that matter to us,” Voorhies said.

The majority of the gang members are considered passive while 9 percent are active and 7.7 percent are disruptive, the report found.

Gang membership in the state’s two women’s prisons — Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville and Dayton Correctional Institution — is less than 3 percent of the population.

At Lebanon Correctional, 792 inmates, or 30.6 percent, are considered to be in gangs. At Warren Correctional, 449 prisoners, or 32 percent, are in gangs.

Gang activity is grounds for transferring an inmate to a higher security prison. As a result, the percentage of inmates in gangs climbs dramatically in the high-security prisons: 62.6 percent at the Ohio Penitentiary in Youngstown, 48.5 percent at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville and 42.1 percent at Toledo Correctional.

Prison officials classify inmates when they first arrive and monitor them for gang activity during their imprisonment, such as associating with other known gang members, fighting, getting fresh gang tattoos, recruiting new members or holding contraband.

“You are judged by the company you keep,” Voorhies said.

Voorhies said he believes membership is down because in recent years DRC installed more stringent criteria for classifying gang members and the state shifted active gang members to higher-security prisons where their movements and privileges are more restricted.

Ohio instituted a three-tier system: most violent offenders are housed in the most secure facilities; the most cooperative prisoners go to prisons that prep them for re-entry into society; and general population prisons.

“We believe we’re trying to get the inmates in the right place with the right attitude,” Voorhies said.