FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY) Gangs

A new prison gang is emerging in California in the Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY) of correctional institutions.

May 15, 2012  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is in a real mess. California is in financial trouble and CDCR has taken some serious hits. While trying to implement a court mandate to release 40,000 state prisoners to county jails and California communities, its internal inmate gang problems are exploding.

The CDCR's Internal Gang Investigators (IGIs) are some of the best in the nation, but they are only "plugging their fingers in the dike" and getting no help from the courts, institution administrators and the California politicians. Organizations such as the ACLU and Prison Law Collective are also working against them.

Over the last 50 years, the CDCR IGIs have become proficient in identifying and segregating prison gang members and security threat groups into Security Housing Units (SHU). This has somewhat reduced the power of these violent groups and lessened their control over the other inmate populations. They have disrupted and dismantled important criminal groups and their leaders operating in and out of the prison system. They are cooperating with local, state and federal law enforcement investigators and prosecutors.

Over the last dozen years, partly due to this effort and partly due to power group rivalries inside the big four California prison gangs, the CDCR has presided over the unprecedented wave of 30,000 prison gang members and their associates who have dropped out of these prison gangs. These frustrated defecting former gang members have become disillusioned with prison gang politics and have sought protective custody (PC).

CDCR has pledged to protect these inmates from their former gangs. The dangerous defectors are screened and debriefed by CDCR staff and placed into protective custody facilities or Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY). Whole sections of some facilities have been set aside to house protective custody inmates, but space is extremely limited in California's overcrowded prisons.

The sheer numbers of dropouts, jail informants, child molesters, and other "softies" who need protection has taxed CDCR's ability to properly protect all these inmates. Without CDCR's institutional protection, the inmates will find ways to form their own self protection groups. Given the nature of the criminal minds involved these self protection groups soon devolve into SNY gangs.

As far back as 20 years ago at Chino California Institute for Men (CIM) about a dozen inmates housed in the Birch Hall section formed a self-defense group. These men had grown tired of the bullying tactics of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, and had openly defied the most powerful gang in the system. Most of these men were former gang members themselves and were not strangers to criminal violence. Since most had sought PC protection from staff, they were considered snitches by other inmates. In Spanish, the slang term for informant or snitch was peseta, which was also a slang term for the Mexican silver 25 centavo coin.

Today, that peseta organization has grown into an organization numbering 1,500 members and associates and has been validated by CDCR as a gang. These pesetas, or 25s, are also called Dos Cinco. They tattoo the number 25, the name peseta or the letters DC on their bodies to identify themselves. Well trained and experienced in criminal sophistication these hardcore dropouts continue to sell drugs, extort other inmates, and assault their enemies.

Some of these individuals flourish on the sensitive needs yards. Unencumbered by the big four prison gangs that control the main yards, they use their criminal skills and the power of intimidation of their new dropout gang to rob, extort and victimize the other SN inmates.

Another gang spawned from the prison gang drop outs are the Northern Riders. These Norteño dropouts who identify themselves with the symbol of the Playboy Bunny, a falling star, or the word "rider" tattooed prominently. CDCR has identified more than 800 members.

The growing numbers of gang dropouts being placed in SNYs has resulted in numerous new gangs forming and warring with rivals on the SNYs. Gang violence has grown so bad that some SN inmates have asked to return to mainline yards rather than continue to face the SN gangs on the SNYs. SN gang activity has been identified on 32 of California's 33 prisons.

The pesetas and the Northern Riders are not alone. There are dropout gangs in 32 of the 33 California prisons. Here are just a few others identified by CDCR staff—187 Ride or Die, Against the Grain, Bad News Banditos, Ballers and Gamers, Brothers by Choice, Cut Throat Family, Down South, Drop Out Squad, FTS, Full 60, Gay Boy Gangsters, Independent Riders, Little Unity, Mexican Outfit, Nueva Flora (New Flower), Player Club, Presidents, Red Hand Mafia, Skins 4 Life, Sucka Free, and $ Gang.

Theses SN gangs operate inside and outside of prison. They can be mixed racially and structured in a looser less-rigid hierarchy. Members often flip in and out of active membership, but they can be just as dangerous as any traditional prison gang. Sometimes SN gang members pose as Sureños, Norteños, Crips, Bloods or AB-NLR members, because that's what they were.

They have spread from California to Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and Idaho. These dropout gangs need to be identified and segregated into the SHU just like the other security threat groups. All dropouts should be screened more thoroughly and debriefed with an eye for possible sympathizing loyalties with one of these drop out gangs. Once identified, these SN gangs need to be treated like traditional prison gang members.

Another aspect of this phenomenon of gangs forming in the SNYs is the danger posed to other true defectors. Ignoring former promises made to defecting inmates who left their prominent positions in the prison gang hierarchy and who have a perpetual "green light" death warrant from their former gangs, CDCR is attempting to "reintegrate" some of these hardcore PC cases back into the prison system by dumping them into the supposedly safe SNYs.

Throwing PC inmates, who have truly disassociated themselves from any of their former prison gangs, into these dangerous shark tank SNYs will force these cooperating defectors to protect themselves. This is a train wreak waiting to happen. In reality, they will be like Christians thrown to the lions in the Coliseum, they must kill or be killed, and neither choice is acceptable.

Author's Note: Much of this article was inspired by a recent FOX 11 Los Angeles report on the SNY gang problem by investigative reporter and close friend Chris Blatchford.


Calif. Proposes Returning High-Risk Prison Gang Members to General Population

California's 'Realignment' Toward Higher Crime

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Patrick @ 5/16/2012 4:18 AM

Really? If these SOB's are forming gangs themselves, SHIP THEM BACK TO GENERAL POPULATION!

Inmate Wife @ 1/25/2013 10:45 AM

No matter what the yard the game stays the same. Come on now, Dangerous shark tanks? You must be kidding me. I think that's blowing it up a little. There is a prison gang that was not mentioned here and they are called C.O's. Those are the only sharks who should be feared because they can do whatever they want whenever they want. I have never worried about another inmate hurting my husband. Over the past 25 years I have seen them get away with everything from transporting drugs to murder and who gets blamed?? Of course the inmate. But if you havent done a chunk of time either as a inmate or inmates wife you will NEVER truly know what it's like because it is a whole other world.

anna @ 6/15/2013 10:17 PM

I hate gangs, u gang fuckers R a piece of shit. We all bleed the same color u fucken idiots, morans Fucken putos.I'm puerto rican look white like a mother fucker.however I am consider an other no problem with me being an other.i didnt listen to my mother u think imma listen to you.think again. I even had brains done. Captain ask me wats up with the braids and I said what's up with them anybody have a problem too f****** bad. Fuck gangs.get a fucken life stupid Ass.

Daniel Torrez @ 10/8/2014 4:10 AM

I am never the one to say i told you so.

David Ruiz @ 2/18/2015 10:25 PM

why do races kill each other remember a house divided shall fall we need to be educated and break the bondage. of the ongoing generational curse be passed down to our children lets unite to protect the weak protect each other and unite to. become educated productive citizens of society lets stop looking like animals like pit bulls disposed of on the side of the road after losing a fight lets give the next generation a chance to succeed in living a productive life our mothers,grandmother's,and family members have shed enough tears lets come together and make a better future for our ethnic backgrounds bringing out the best in one's potential in life to give back to society to prove we are an asset. to life in these. end days of being looked down on as mennace to society.

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Prepare for the Battles to Come
When these attacks occur, America’s first responders, police, fire, and medical teams will...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Zip Code:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine