As recently as 1980, the murder rate in prison was nearly five times as great as in the general population. Faced with such staggering figures, says USA Today, corrections officers began changing their tactics. They took new approaches to handling gangs, using solitary confinement and dealing with inmates’ mental-health issues. From 2000 to 2003, the homicide rate in prison remained below the national average, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In the mid-1980s, Texas began pulling confirmed gang members out of the general population and placing them in solitary confinement. The drop in murders was almost immediate. Other states are now using similar practices in dealing with gang members. In Illinois, corrections officials separate gang leaders from the general prison population. Corrections officials also changed security measures to combat violence. Maximum-security cells used to have curtains for privacy, but those were removed to eliminate the secrecy needed to commit violent acts. Inmates can no longer wear personal clothing, which eliminates the ability to identify one another through gang colors. Guards closely monitor cell and work assignments to ensure that groups of violent offenders are kept apart.