Gartner explores gang member incarceration

March 29, 2017
Nancy Gartner

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Dr. Nancy Gartner, assistant professor of criminal justice at UW-Platteville, and two co-authors recently explored the consequences of incarceration for gang members in a peer-review article recently published in Criminology, the top journal in the criminal justice field.

In “Consequences of Incarceration for Gang Membership: A Longitudinal Study of Serious Offenders in Philadelphia and Phoenix,” Gartner and her co-authors, Dr. David C. Pyrooz, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Dr. Molly Smith, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, examined the link between incarceration and gang membership in a group of youthful serious offenders in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Phoenix, Arizona. The study tested whether gang membership began, was brought in or was intensified once an individual was incarcerated.

Key findings from the research showed that offenders were more likely to be gang members while they were incarcerated and that, in Phoenix, longer terms of incarceration led to prolonged gang involvement. Membership was more likely to persist between transitions in and out of incarcerated settings and was not found to be limited to periods of incarceration.

“During a graduate course, I was looking at the interaction between incarceration and gang membership,” said Gartner. “I was surprised that there was a gap in the literature regarding how gang membership was tied to inmate socialization. Even though gangs tend to be specific to the street or to prison, gang membership was not limited to terms of incarceration. This research has the potential to help inform correctional administrative policies regarding gang membership and can help inform my students about the complicated interaction between incarceration and gang membership.”

“Nancy Gartner and her co-authors have taken a deep dive into the data on how gang membership operates over the life-course and whether incarceration disrupts or prolongs it,” said Dr. Staci Strobl, associate professor of criminal justice and interim chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at UW-Platteville. “Having her article published in the most respected journal in our field is not only great for her career development, but also puts our department on the map in a way it hasn’t been before. Having a top corrections scholar in the department also means our students are learning from someone at the cutting edge of the field who knows the trends and issues being discussed intimately.”

“Furthermore,” added Strobl, “the importance of this research for the fields of prison and gang studies cannot be understated: This is one of the most comprehensive looks at gang membership over time, showing that incarcerated people are more likely to be in gangs while incarcerated than when not and that for those who maintain membership in both settings, their in-group status remains durable. At the same time, many offenders are exiting gangs while incarcerated, contrary to common wisdom. This is significant to the emerging discourse in our field, called desistance studies, which focuses on why most people ultimately quit crime and deviant behavior. Overall, Gartner and her co-authors show that many more nuances are at play than commonly assumed and they call for future research into the connections between gang activity in the street and behind bars.”

Gartner was hired by UW-Platteville’s Department of Criminal Justice in a competitive national search and began teaching in fall 2016. She teaches Correctional Institutions, Research Methods, Juvenile Justice and Senior Seminar in Criminal Justice. She also is working with Dr. William LeSuer, assistant professor of criminal justice at UW-Platteville, to bring a criminal justice honors society to the UW-Platteville campus next year.

Data used for the project were supported by funds from the following: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, National Institute of Justice, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Arizona Governor's Justice Commission.

To read the full text of the article, go to:

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, Communications Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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