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Security Threat Group (STG)

What is an STG?

STG is an acronym for “security threat group,” and is defined as a group of three or more individuals with a common interest or activity that is generally characterized by criminal behavior that poses a security risk to an institution or facility.

How common is the term?

It is largely unknown outside of correctional and law enforcement circles because it is exclusive to the corrections field. On the streets, terms such as street gangs, extremist groups, cults and tag crews apply. Corrections lumps all these groups into one category: STGs or “groups that threaten the security of the institution.”

Are prison gangs and street gangs the same thing?

Sometimes yes. The history of each gang tends to define whether it is a prison gang or street gang, but the behavior and criminal conduct pose the same threat, regardless of origin. For example, the Crips and Bloods are street gangs that originated in California neighborhoods, but they carry their criminal activity and gang affiliation with them into the prison system, while the Aryan Brotherhood is a prison gang that originated in the California prison system, but conducts illegal activity on the streets from behind the walls of correctional facilities.

Why does the Montana Department of Corrections use the term STG, rather than gang?

The department recognizes more than street and prison gangs as STGs, because it deals with organized groups that aren’t street gangs but operate within the corrections system. For example, the Juggalos are a recognized STG group that would never classify itself as a street gang. They are more like a cult that follows mimics and idolizes the music group, Insane Clown Posse. The music encourages and condones extreme acts of violence, which some Juggalos carry out. Juggalo members paint their faces black and white, dress in black clothing, attend raves together that often end violently, and consider themselves a family.

How many STG members are validated within the Department of Corrections?

Currently, there are 424 validated STG members being supervised by the department, but many others have yet to be identified because of a lack of resources.

Why are corrections officials concerned about STGs?

They pose an added security risk to the institutions and facilities that house these offenders and to the probation and parole officers that supervise them in the communities. STGs tend to operate in a “pack mentality.” Each inmate acts and behaves as he or she is expected to behave by fellow STG members, rather than acting and behaving as corrections officials encourage them to do.

What is an example of the problem created by STG activity?

If a STG member is told he or she has to assault another inmate or damage a block of cells, he complies or suffers consequences imposed by the other STG members. If the inmate follows the order, staff has to deal with the aftermath of the acting out and/or violent behavior. If the inmate refuses the order, staff has to provide protection for him from reprisals from other STG members. Either way, the result is a threat to the security of an institution and safety of inmates and staff.

What is the trend in STGs in Montana’s prisons?

The frequency and intensity of SG-related incidents is increasing from one or two a year to about one per month. The addition of a second position to address the problem is a direct result of that trend.

What are the common characteristics of a typical STG member?

They tend to be younger (18-25) and more impressionable offenders and to come from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Are all STG members a problem in the prison system?

No. Some tends to lay low and fly under the radar. These ones typically aren’t a management issue. They are productive in treatment or work programs, and are simply doing their time. But others are actively involved in STG politics on a regular basis. They may be involved in recruiting other STG members, carrying out orders (assaults, bull-dogging, passing on messages to other members, acts of extortion, etc). This type of STG member is a constant management concern, and requires extra supervision and staff resources.

Does the Department of Corrections validate and track offenders in the community and in the secure facilities?

Yes, to the best of our ability with the resources available. Currently, only two staffers work full-time to combat an increasing gang problem. Before May, the department had only one position dedicated to STGs, so most of the emphasis and resources were being placed on the secure facilities where the department has the most familiarization with gangs. A security position was moved to the STG unit last month. As a result, work is under way to bring adult community corrections up to speed on the current STG problem with offenders under their jurisdiction.

What is the short-term goal for the STG Unit?

The focus will be on educating department staff on the system used to request a STG review be conducted on an offender suspected of being a member. This will involve training and educating all relevant staff on basic gang recognition, policies and procedures related to STGs and on basic gang prevention, intervention and suppression techniques. Getting community corrections employees the training and resources they need will be crucial in achieving this goal, as they have shown an eager willingness to assist with this problem. We also want to unite community corrections, secure facilities, juvenile facilities and local law enforcement agencies so we can share resources and intelligence.

What is the long-term goal for the STG Unit?

The long-term goal of the STG unit is to implement gang prevention, intervention and suppression programming for the targeted offender population in order to take a more proactive, rather than reactive, stance on this issue. It will take good communication and the continued support of all DOC employees, a “can-do” attitude from those working with these offenders, and a strong sense of teamwork from all stakeholders involved within the secure facilities (adult and juvenile), community programs, probation and parole, contracted facilities, local law enforcement agencies and community support entities.