Screenshot from Xcalifas4/YouTube
Authorities are planning to expand efforts to shut down the 45-year-old Nuestra Familia prison gang following a massive sweep in the Central Valley last week that netted dozens of alleged Nuestra Familia street operatives on drug trafficking charges.
Measures targeting gang leaders already serving life sentences in California prisons could include limits on inmate bank accounts (Nuestra Familia has used the trust accounts to launder drug money and pay off associates), severe restrictions on visitations and written correspondence, and deployment of new technology to block illicit cell phone communications, according to state officials.
The aim is to break the sophisticated network that links the gang’s heavily tattooed leaders, who are locked down at Pelican Bay State Prison’s notorious Security Housing Unit, and members in other prisons and on the street.
The network relies on coded messages that are passed verbally or on small scraps of paper hidden in an inmate’s rectum. In recent years the group has also communicated with smuggled cell phones, a growing problem in prisons around the country.
Officials close to last week’s operation – code-named Street Sweeper – say telephone intercepts show that Nuestra Familia members used cell phones to pass orders from inmates at Folsom and Corcoran prisons to street lieutenants in cities like Visalia and Salinas.
“We have received information that the leadership within the Nuestra Familia have been communicating with street gangs, we have intercepted those communications, and they have been doing it with cell phones,” said Jerry Hunter, assistant chief of the state’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which coordinated the raids.
Attorney General Jerry Brown highlighted the problem of illicit cell phones in state prisons at a press conference announcing the gang sweeps. Brown called on new legislation to allow authorities to erect an “electronic net” over Pelican Bay and other prisons, saying the isolation of the Nuestra Familia leadership needed to be intensified.
Brown advocated "carrying on the war against gang members" in California and invoked the specter of Mexico-style drug violence if groups like the Nuestra Familia were not contained.
"You see below the border in Mexico where they have beheadings. They attack police stations. Thousands of people are killed," he said. "This is dangerous stuff."