The Mexican Mafia in Supermax: Comparing Prison Gang Structures at Pelican Bay Zachary Koenig

Zachary Koenig


Prison gangs create serious issues within correctional institutions. From behind prison walls, prison gang members endanger other inmates, smuggle drugs, and form protection rackets. To combat these criminal organizations, prison officials and law enforcement officers utilize a variety of strategies. One of the leading tools used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to suppress prison gang activity is the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU). This thesis focuses on one particular gang with members in the Pelican Bay SHU: the Mexican Mafia. The Mexican Mafia is powerful in the California prison system and poses a unique challenge to suppression efforts due to its organizational structure. This thesis argues that the horizontal structure of this gang better equips it than a hierarchical gang to survive when members are isolated in the SHU. By evaluating this gang’s organizational design, this thesis presents original insight on how SHU suppression strategies challenge the Mexican Mafia differently than other gangs.