Speaker: Dr David Skarbek, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy, Department of Political Economy, King's College London.
Chair: Dr Kieran Mitton, War Studies, King's College London.
Part of the Conflict, Security & Development Research Group Approaches to Understanding Violence Seminar Series.
Why does prison social order vary around the world? While many of the basic characteristics of prisons are similar globally, the extent and form of informal inmate organization varies substantially. This paper develops a governance theory of prison social order. Inmates create extralegal governance institutions when official governance is insufficient. The size and demographics of the prison population explain why inmates produce extralegal governance institutions in either decentralized ways, such as ostracism, or through more centralized forms, such as gangs. Comparative analysis of Brazil, Bolivia, England, Scandinavia, and men’s and women’s prisons in California provide empirical support.
Dr David Skarbek is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at King's College London. His research uses comparative institutional analysis to examine how extralegal governance institutions form, operate, and evolve. His recent book 'The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System' (Oxford University Press, 2014) won the 2014 Outstanding Publication Award of the International Association for the Study of Organized Crime.
"When many people think of prison gangs, they think of chaotic bands of violent, racist thugs. Few people think of gangs as sophisticated organizations (often with elaborate written constitutions) that regulate the prison black market, adjudicate conflicts, and strategically balance the competing demands of inmates, gang members, and correctional officers. Yet as David Skarbek argues, gangs form to create order among outlaws, producing alternative governance institutions to facilitate illegal activity. He uses economics to explore the secret world of the convict culture, inmate hierarchy, and prison gang politics, and to explain why prison gangs form, how formal institutions affect them, and why they have a powerful influence even over crime beyond prison walls. This book is a fascinating look into the seemingly irrational, truly astonishing, and often tragic world of life among the society of captives."