WESTOVER, Md.- Police across Delmarva have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to fight a growing gang problem. Guards at the Eastern Correctional Institution, in Westover, Md., describe a full fifth of the inmates as gang members.
Corrections officers say gangs are a significant problem. Guards say violence and drug activity inside the prison mirror what is going on in the streets.
Maryland Department of Corrections officials say groups inside ECI are affililated with some of the country's largest street gangs, including the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings. Guards say hand signs, tattoos, colors and clothing help them identify gang members. ECI Chief of Security Michael King said most inmates enter the prison already associated with gangs.
"They are coming into the institution already members of gangs," King said. "A very low percentage join while they are in here."
King said much of the violence in ECI is gang-related. He noted that crafty prisoners turn ordinary items like toothbrushes, pens and locks into weapons.
"Sometimes there is a lot of in-fighting where you will have gang members that will disagree and they will fight each other," King said. "Or you can have five from one gang and five from another gang come together and fight."
Correctional officers say they encourage prisoners to leave the gang life. Some inmates say it is a difficult choice for some prisoners to make..
"Gangs exist in the world. I mean in prison, it is what you make it," said inmate James Scott. "It's the same way on the streets: everybody has choices, everybody has to choose there own path."
The Department of Corrections said it has partnered with local law enforcement to share information about known gang members.
Officers say they hope this helps them get a jump on the rising gang issue.