Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Kenneth P. Miller

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Over the last fifty years, California has become one of the largest jailers in the world, incarcerating nearly 128,000 men and women on a $10.5 billion budget. The prison population has rapidly risen over this period, resulting in overly crowded, chaotic prisons and jails that became increasingly difficult to manage. As correctional officers and officials lost control over the prison social order, inmates looked to themselves and created a new set of social norms through race-based gangs. What began with the formation of the Mexican Mafia in 1957 now dictates prison social life, where racially segregated cells, cafeterias, yards, and gyms are the new norm. In an attempt to manage this new social structure, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation unofficially employed the use of racial segregation during the intake process for prison housing. The practice was challenged and eventually overruled in the 2005 Supreme Court decision Johnson v. California, but the State continues to struggle with compliance on multiple fronts.

This thesis examines the history and development of race-based gangs in California in an attempt to understand how to manage the racially segregated world of prisons today. It finds that tensions between the courts, the State, and the inmates are ultimately perpetuated by the continuance of racially segregation policies, and it will ultimately take the political will of Department officials to eliminate race-based gangs and enact cultural change.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.