Capt. Joe Lytle said the inmates are sending out messages written in Nahuatl, a 1,400-year-old Aztec language.
Lytle said officers have decoded some letters where inmates still try to call the shots for crimes to be committed in neighborhoods. He said they have seen information regarding drug sales to hits, as murders are called.
Those types of crimes can trickle down to violence on the streets and property crime.
However, the inmates are not the only experts in this language. Lytle said correction officers talk to detectives who patrol the streets everyday and share information they get through these letters.
Lytle said deciphering the inmate’s next call, the gang’s next move, means taking detective work back hundreds of years.
“It’s a language that these inmates have been accustomed to using,” Lytle said.
Some corrections officers have become decoders and just months ago deciphered a letter referencing the beginning of a possible new gang.
“The note translated as: ‘He brother soldier the constitution that is written in stone. When you see me again outside tell me if you agree,’” Lytle said.
Lytle said that new group has been linked to 30 inmates so far.
Prison officials said they’re working with outside detectives to determine if a new gang has emerged on the streets, too.
“The more organized they are, the harder they are to break,” Lytle said.
Lytle said where there are gangs there is crime on the streets. He said some of it is possibly being controlled from members, even leaders, locked up inside.
“I have a whole book on it, from one particular inmate that we have, describing different hits, different drug activity,” Lytle said. “It is a public safety issue all around.”
Lytle said the inmates learn the language from other more experienced inmates. Since the officers have learned many of the words, too, the groups start mixing in more slang.
Corrections officials said the Aztec language is used more in the state pen because that is where more hardcore gang members are housed.