- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

It’s only 10:30 a.m., but the intake room at the Prince George’s county jail on this recent day is already full. About 30 people, mostly men, slump bleary-eyed in chairs or talk into a bank of pay phones, many of them swept up by police in a pre-dawn drug sting.

A corrections officer shouts out names, mug shots are taken, then the soon-to-be inmates shuffle toward another officer at a computer.

The uniformed woman creates an electronic file for each inmate by asking the standard questions — age, address, Social Security number and whether he has previously been arrested. She also asks if they are part of a gang.

The jail, officially known as the Prince George’s County Correctional Center, has for about the past year tried to track gang members through a computerized database, flagging records of inmates who acknowledge belonging to the roughly 20 gangs in the area.

The information helps ensure safety inside the jail, to be sure. But it also addresses the larger issue of gangs in the community.

“When you look at the gang problem, you’ve got to understand the people who are arrested end up in prison,” said Barry Stanton, the jail’s director.

Law-enforcement officials are looking for better ways to stop gang violence in the region, which has recently included several killings in Prince George’s County and a series of stabbings in Montgomery County.

In August, federal authorities announced a broad indictment of 19 purported Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, gang members on racketeering charges. The indictment depicted the Hispanic gang as more than just a group of street toughs. Prosecutors say MS-13 cliques actively recruited new members, kept tight discipline and plotted attacks. Members also purportedly collected dues to help members in prisons in the region and in El Salvador, the native country of many members.

“MS-13 members do not stop being MS-13 members when they are locked up,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson said after the indictments.

The numbers of gang members are still relatively small in the state’s prisons, which generally handle prisoners after they are sentenced, and the jails, where inmates go while awaiting trial.

The Prince George’s jail, has the capacity for 1,320 prisoners, but usually has about 20 self-identified gang members.

The Montgomery County Detention Center began identifying gang members a few years ago, said Director Arthur Wallenstein, who would not provide details, citing privacy laws.

The state corrections system also declined to give specifics.

The state’s juvenile justice system, which operates several detention centers, identifies gang members and takes photos of tattoos that signify gang membership. As of two weeks ago, 188 of 2,500 juveniles had gang ties, the department said.

At the Prince George’s jail, the computerized inmate files are designed to send an e-mail to corrections officers notifying them that an inmate is part of a gang. The information can help officials decide how safely to house inmates from rival gangs and can be transferred to the state system. The database will soon include photos of purported gang tattoos and gang graffiti in cells, said Joe Dabay, the jail’s information services manager.

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