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Commentary: Attorney General Sessions Says He Wants To Target Gangs, But In The Federal Bureau of Prisons Gangs Find A Home Base, And A Place To Flourish

FCI Gilmer

Commentary: Attorney General Sessions Says He Wants To Target Gangs, But In The Federal Bureau of Prisons Gangs Find A Home Base, And A Place To Flourish


With the Department of Justice targeting national gangs like MS-13, the Trump administration has declared a war on national gangs. “MS-13 members brutally rape, rob, extort and murder,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the International Association of Chiefs of Police at a conferencein Philadelphia in late October. “Just like we took Al Capone off the streets with our tax laws, we will use whatever laws we have to get MS-13 off of our streets.” But throwing more gang members in an already overcrowded federal prison system will only exacerbate the problem.

I spent 21 years in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The number of federal prisoners is small compared to the headcount of those incarcerated at the state and local level. But the BOP, a subdivision of the Department of Justice, makes up a significant part of the total DOJ budget. Indeed, in 2014, then Attorney General Eric Holder lamented that “One third of the budget at the Justice Department now goes to the Bureau of Prisons.”

Like thousands of others caught up in the drug war, I served my sentence in the BOP on drug charges. I saw, first hand, how national gangs — many of which have their roots in the prison system — proliferate in the BOP. I watched as US Attorneys filled the BOP with low level Sureños- Southern California Latinos beholden to the Mexican Mafia (La eMe) — in the 1990s for low level drug offenses. There are Sureño cliques in federal prisons now all across the country. I was housed at FCC Forrest City in Arkansas and they were 30 deep on the compound. A California gang omnipresent in the deep south. The BOP functions as an organizational base for gangs who use it as a testing ground to recruit new members.

When I was incarcerated at FCI Gilmer in West Virginia, I talked to an MS-13 member from Los Angeles who told me how the LA gang members would get deported back to El Salvador or Honduras after serving time in the BOP. When they went back to their home countries they brought the gang with them.

The BOP is a center of power for national gangs and behind the prison walls they do whatever they can to increase their stature. The Aryan Brotherhood (AB) and Mexican Mafia have killed at will in the BOP with little or no opposition from authorities. AB shot-caller Barry “The Baron” Mills committed his first murder in the BOP in 1979 at USP Atlanta and continued the gang’s killing spree over multiple decades, which culminated in a massive racketeering indictment in 2005. And even though Mills was convicted of murder he still maintains his position on the AB’s ruling council in the BOP.

Other gangs like La eMe have also killed with ruthless abandon in the BOP. Mexican Mafia gang leader Manuel “Tati” Torrez was stomped to death by a fellow gang member at ADX Florence in 2005, the BOP’s Supermax where inmates spend 23 hours per day in their cells, leading the New York Times to call the facility “The Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

Such violence exists because BOP staff and investigators are complacent and satisfied with the status quo. Enabling the gangs to police the prison and even parlaying with gang shot callers to determine who can be let out on the yard. BOP staff give the gangs free reign and only step in afterward to clean up the mess.

Worse, the response by the BOP and the DOJ to its gang problem has not been to take any meaningful steps such as renunciation, debriefing, or rival gang member integration programs to curb the violence at its own facilities. Instead federal prosecutors have sought the death penalty in case after case involving BOP violence, such as Joseph Ebron who in 2009 was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 murder of a fellow inmate at the BOP’s notoriously violent USP Beaumont in Texas, also known as “Bloody Beaumont.”

It’s darkly ironic that Attorney General Sessions is targeting the very national gangs who thrive in a prison system housing 200,000 inmates directly under DOJ control.


Seth Ferranti did 21 years in the Bureau of Prisons for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense. He started writing a column for VICE magazine while in prison and now that he’s out he’s penning features for Penthouse, making true crime documentaries about injustices (White Boy), running Gorilla Convict– the publishing house he started in prison, and enjoying life with his wife Diane, who he married while he was in BOP custody. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

New Jersey Governor-Elect Promising Bold Criminal Justice Reform Agenda

Phil Murphy has promised marijuana legalization, end of cash bail and will look at ending minimum mandatory sentences

New Jersey Governor-Elect Promising Bold Criminal Justice Reform Agenda

Phil Murphy has promised marijuana legalization, end of cash bail and will look at ending minimum mandatory sentences


The landslide election of Phil Murphy to be the new governor of New Jersey is likely to put the Garden State at the forefront of criminal justice reforms in the United States.

Murphy, who defeated incumbent Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno earlier this week 56–43 percent, has promised to pursue multiple criminal justice reforms.

The reforms promised on his campaign website include creating a commission that will examine laws like mandatory minimums, fully implementing bail reform that is designed to end cash bail in New Jersey, legalize marijuana, expand body cameras on police officers and expand services that help people getting out of jail adjust to life on the outside.

“Mr. Murphy favors the legalization of marijuana, including for recreational use. His campaign claims it could yield $300 million in new tax revenue,” the New York TImes wrote. “Mr. Murphy also says that his marijuana policy is based on seeking to eliminate low-level drug offenses and reduce the number of people in prison.”

Murphy, a Democrat, will enjoy large majorities in the New Jersey House and Senate. The Legislature has been supportive of criminal justice reforms but struggled to get laws enacted due to the multiple vetoes of the outgoing governor, Republican Chris Christie.

“Given the state’s overall political lean, the Murphy administration will have fairly broad latitude to pursue a progressive agenda,” wrote Matthew Yglesias in Vox, while pointing out that New Jersey’s finances aren’t in great shape that could complicate some reform efforts.

Murphy will take office in January.

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Indianapolis Police Officers Will Not Be Criminally Charged for Shooting Unarmed Black Man

But the police chief recommends the officers’ dismissal

Indianapolis Police Officers Will Not Be Criminally Charged for Shooting Unarmed Black Man

But the police chief recommends the officers’ dismissal


A special prosecutor has chosen not to bring charges against two Indianapolis police officers who shot and killed an unarmed black man, Aaron Bailey. Despite that decision, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Bryan Roach has recommended the dismissal of both officers, claiming they did not need to use deadly force to subdue and arrest Bailey.

Last month Special Prosecutor Kenneth P. Cotter announced he would not charge Officers Michal P. Dinnsen and Carlton J. Howard of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for the death of Aaron Bailey. According to the Indianapolis Star, his report found insufficient evidence to refute the officers’ statements that they shot Bailey because they feared for their lives. AsIn Justice Today previously reported, the two police officers pulled Bailey over for a traffic stop around 2 a.m. on June 29 and then engaged in a high speed chase with him after he tried to drive away. When Bailey’s car crashed into a tree, the two officers got out of their vehicle and fatally shot him.

The case has become a flashpoint in Indianapolis, sparking major protests across the city. Many leaders of the city’s minority communities have questioned why an unarmed Bailey needed to be shot in the back. The FBI recently announced it will launch an investigation into the incident.

“It is a human and civil rights issue. When there are no systems for accountability, safety is affected and anyone can be a victim,” said Chrystal Ratcliffe, President of the Greater Indianapolis NAACP.

Cotter, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor, took over the case after Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry recused himself. His recusal followed criticism from the Bailey family and other community members that his close ties to the Indianapolis police prevented him from making an impartial decision.

Cotter’s report stated that Bailey was unwilling to cooperate during the original traffic stop, appeared nervous and then drove away after police had instructed him not to leave. It also noted that Bailey was a suspect in a series of robberies, and that the passenger in his car was wanted in connection with a homicide. Police and the passenger agreed that Bailey didn’t raise his hands after he crashed his car into a tree, and instead reached into the center console of the vehicle.

However, many community members believe that the investigation illustrates, once again, why police officers are so rarely charged with crimes, even when the victim is unarmed. Reverend David Greene, President of a city ministry, noted that this incident follows a national pattern. “Obviously, we want to have great police and community relationships, but when no officer ever gets indicted, it makes it hard…because it seems like there’s a double standard.”

Despite Cotter’s decision, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Bryan Roach said the shooting was not justified and that deadly force was not necessary to arrest Bailey. Roach has suspended both officers without pay and has recommended their dismissal to the Civilian Police Merit Board. An IMPD press release stated that the officers’ actions rise “to a level so far removed from accepted professional practice and community expectation that it severely damages public trust of its police department.”

Bailey’s daughter, Erica, told the Indianapolis Star that she was happy with Roach’s action. She had previously expressed outrage after Cotter declined to bring charges. “I gained a little more trust back with the chief of police,” she said. “He didn’t only think about his people. He went in there and thought about us, too, and the community.”

Bailey’s adult son, daughter and sister are suing the city of Indianapolis, the police department and Dinnsen and Howard, claiming that Bailey’s constitutional rights were violated.

“Officer Howard’s actions in using excessive force against Mr. Aaron Bailey and violating his bodily integrity shock the conscious and constitute a violation and deprivation of Mr. Bailey’s rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

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