The Nature and Structure of MS-13 in Los Angeles County

Lidia E. Nuño, Edward R. Maguire

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Scopus citations


    Recent descriptions of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) by senior U.S. government officials suggest that the gang is highly organized, has significant transnational capacity, and is heavily involved in violence. Arguably, these depictions have created moral panic among the public and have fed xenophobic attitudes toward Latin American immigrants. However, little is known from empirical research about the nature and structure of MS-13 in the United States. In this article, we draw on data from interviews with incarcerated MS-13 members in Los Angeles County, the birthplace of MS-13. We examine three key aspects of MS-13: its organizational characteristics, its transnational capacity, and its involvement in criminal behavior, including violence. Our findings provide a useful descriptive summary of MS-13 in Los Angeles County, where the gang originated. Our findings also suggest that while there are good reasons to take MS-13 seriously as a threat to public safety, much of the public discourse on the gang is based on inaccurate assumptions.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    JournalCriminal Justice Review
    StateAccepted/In press - 2021


    • crime and violence
    • Hispanic gangs
    • Latin American gangs
    • Los Angeles County
    • MS13
    • transnational capacity and organizational characteristics

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Law


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