This entry examines Nuestra Familia, a major Latino prison gang in the United States and one of the earliest of such groups to develop in California. Prison gangs vary widely in their characteristics, but they form and operate in the penitentiary system, usually along racial or ethnic lines; maintain a vertical chain of command; obey a code of conduct; and require a lifetime membership. Inmates create these groups for reasons of self-protection in a hostile environment and commit or order crimes for their own economic support. From behind bars, prison gangs even direct street gangs to enforce their orders, perpetrate crimes on their behalf, and deposit their profits in return for protection during their own jail time.

In the United States, prison gang affiliation has steadily ...

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