Gang Presence Poses Growing Threat in Northeastern Pennsylvania Prison

Officials in Northeastern Pennsylvania say the street gang population in Luzerne County Correctional Facility is growing "in leaps and bounds."

Street gangs — primarily the Bloods — have permeated the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, and keeping tabs on their plots and rivalries has become a consuming mission, prison officials say.

Interim County Correctional Services Division Head James Larson said the prison gang population is "growing in leaps and bounds," and options to separate gang members are limited because the facility has been at or over its 505-inmate capacity in recent years.

"This area's been flooded with gang members, and they intimidate and dominate in their own way. These activities aren't necessarily overt," Larson said. "It's all underneath the surface."

He used a sports analogy to capture the state of affairs: "It's our park, but it's their game."

This "game" often involves paper messages written in coded symbols. Known as "kites," these folded-up communications are passed through inmates or hidden under a bush or in the dirt of the prison yard, he said.

The prison has a choppy layout due to its age and design, which adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere inside.

Inmates are housed either in the original castle-like building, constructed in 1868, or in the multistory addition constructed in 1987. The interior of the original building was renovated when the addition was built, Larson said.

If there's a conflict between two rival gang members, one may be moved to a block on another floor. However, there are gang members on every block, the worker said. Others on the block where the inmate is relocated will know his identity and history within minutes due to toilet communication, the worker said.

Clashes between gang members on the streets often continue inside the prison, the prison officials said.

"A lot of times we don't even know what the beefs are outside, but they know," Larson said. "They don't just go away because they're in jail."

Information from: Times Leader,

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