*The Social Order of the Underworld*

The author of this new and excellent book is David Skarbek and the subtitle is How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System.  It carries rave blurbs from Thomas Schelling and also Philip Keefer.  My favorite section was the discussion of how the rate of gang formation in prisons depends on how the prisons are governed (start at p.65).  For instance when prison officials cannot reliably protect prison inhabitants, gang membership is especially likely.  Gangs rarely operate in UK prisons and when they are do they are usually far less powerful.  Some observers believe that indeterminate sentences increase inmate frustration and stimulate gang formation within prisons.  Female prisoners in many states, such as California, also do not have gangs in the traditional sense, although they may form into “small families.”  Gangs are also more likely in large prisons with many inmates than in small prisons.

A very interesting book, which should be read by anyone with an interest in this topic.


it seems obvious. multiculturalism leads to gang formation

That seems to be what the author is implying on p. 38 in explaining the transition in California prisons from Jimmy Cagney-style cons in the 1950s to the chaos and then gangs in the 1970s, but then the Amazon free preview runs out.

that doesn't entirely follow. the uk has afro-caribbean and central asian criminals but it doesn't have as big a problem with prison gangs

The SPLC has collected a lot of money off the existence of white prison gangs:


Along a similar vein, the end of apartheid has turned South African prisons into ultra-violent hellholes filled with vicious gangs, horrific violence, and rampant AIDS and rape. The irony is that leftist social policy is couched in terms of helping the weakest, more wretched and powerless. But the main beneficiaries tend to be the middle class and upper class that can plausibly claim some sort of relation to victimhood. Meanwhile the actual lowest rungs of society usually end up worse off.


Baltimore City Paper did some reporting on how BGF operates.

Hiring women to guard men really doesn't work:


True, but that seems to be the least of the problems.

Why aren't there high school classes in "prison guardiology", since it's such an important part of the modern US workforce?

High school? If you want to be a prison guard, you are supposed to go to college and major in criminal justice.

Why not screen prospective guards with a written examination, a physical fitness test, a psychological test, and a background check? You can train on the job. No need to require community college unless it's socially efficient to require a vocational certificate before hiring, which it would be if you were worried about losing your investment in training. The question would then be how fungible the skills of a prison guard are. Of course, contemporary practice tends to frown on written examinations because our institutions have been mangled to give priority to the interests of lawyer-rent-seekers rather than the goal of institutional performance.

At the state level, getting a job as a prison guard is a lot like getting a job as a longshoreman. A relative gets you in and helps you get credentialed. Despite what some may think, the CO ranks are not littered with college grads. To move up the ranks, getting an AA degree, along with passing specific training requirements within the system is helpful, but not required. It is further up in prison management that you see the credentialed class.

Dunno. The only CO I'm acquainted with is a recent migrant from Pennsylvania. He just needed a regular income because the business he was setting up was insufficiently lucrative; it was a family enterprise they were both working on off-hours. He and his wife were too new to the area to have any connections.

It varies a lot across states. I've lived in states where it was a job guys would take coming out of the service until they found real work or finished college. In other states it is a "career" with a very strong union. California comes to mind as an example of the latter. Virginia comes to mind as an example of the former. I knew a handful of guys who cycled out of the service and took jobs in the prison system while going back to college.

Regardless, it is not a profession requiring a college diploma at this point. I don't even think the Federal system requires college. They have their own training and certification process. It may be a money maker for the unions, but I'm not sure about that. Odds are "friends of the union" run the training, which is a common scam at the Federal level.

Tavon White is the kind of charismatic personality that can't be denied. Even in prison he's a match for his surroundings. His personal strength, which undeniably has its unattractive aspects, easily bests that of the weaklings that need the force of government behind them to dominate others. Put him up against a doofus like John Kerry or a dope like Joe Biden and see who comes out on top.

Some of you need to rewatch The Wire.

Put him in solitary confinement and feed him bulgar wheat during his stay as a guest of the State of Maryland. Let what's his name visit with his lawyer and his first degree relations and write some letters. It will not matter if Joseph Biden is a doofus.

"Gangs rarely operate in UK prisons." My how I laughed: says who? When?

Presumably the book under review.

No: the book under review will probably only quote someone else saying so. Who he?

On a related note, Dylan Matthews at Vox wrote up an essay about the social costs of prisons:

There is an easy way to get rid of prisons - execute everyone. Or if you do not like that, perhaps a Mad Max-style world where all the criminals are outside and the law abiding are the ones behind bars. It is Britain's choice.

Don't like either of these options? Well, tough. The idea that allowing Armed Robbers and drug gang leaders to sit at home watching TV makes us all safer is insane. There is no middle ground except prison.

I'm sorry, but that article is terrible. Foremost among the flaws are the misleading statistics which fail to take into account the effects of wide-spread plea-barganing; a significant portion of those criminals "convicted of non-violent offences" in fact are violent criminals who were pled down to easier-to-prove (in our backwards, 18th Century evidentiary system and in "snitches get stitches" environments) non-violent charges. (Note, this also explains much of what the author decries as "racism" in sentencing.)

According to official statistics, roughly 80% of the British prison population is white. They divide out foreign nationals from their numbers, so I'm using a back of the envelope adjustment. As of 2012 88% of British nationals in British jails were white. In the US, the prison population is 27% white. Therefore, comparing the two countries prisons is not worth much.

On the other hand, Eastern European prisons have a similar level of vibrancy as British jails and there is a much higher level of gang activity. The difference being that there is a much lower degree of control over the prisoners. The prison gangs maintain order. This is similar to what you see in South America. The inmates literally run the facilities. Although South American prisons report a much higher level of violence so there are other factors at play.

We increase prison capacity 7-fold over a period of 30 years. Did any state prison authorities think to construct the new inventory in the form of tiny individual cells with a toilet, sink, and sound barriers???

That aside, prison factories are a source of weapons. Close them down.

Keep prisoners locked up for 18 hours a day, allowing them out in carefully supervised tranches to see visitors, run around an exercise track, shower, and have the occasional trip to the barber or dentist. Do not allow a prison society to form with its own dynamic and hierarchy.

Deliver their meal to their cell 3x daily. Bulgar wheat and some other staples will do for adequate nutrition. Deliver a change of uniform and linens weekly. Discontinue amenities like cable television and tobacco.


My favorite section was the discussion of how the rate of gang formation in prisons depends on how the prisons are governed (start at p.65).

Well, you and they are off-message. The point of discussion of prison conditions is to paint the situation as hopeless in order to discredit incarceration in favor of social work. As the ACLU used to say, "prison is harsh".

I agree with most of what you suggest, but being locked up is a pretty good punishment itself. They have to have some recreation while they are in their cells or they will go crazy, which is not good for anyone. I mean yeah books would be enough for me, but I'm sure lots of these guys are illiterate, so cable TV probably makes sense. Or you could just have educational workshops airing on a TV all day long ha.

Ahhhhh! Feel better now?

Feel better about what?

After feeding this guy bulgar and water for four years what do you think should be the next step? http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2014/02/perjurer-gets-2-months-for-putting.html

Congratulate him on not getting raped repeatedly over the last four years?

For what would he be serving a four year sentence?

One would expect that in general, gangs form if "officials" (aka government) cannot protect inhabitants. That is, the monopolisation of violence argument.

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