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Government By Prison Gang

We hear so much about prison gangs.

The brutality.

The violence.

Why would anybody join them?

Is it simply because prison life turns you into a savage?

On the contrary…

Once you hear the deeper issues involved, you will see that inmates basically have no choice.

Who’s in charge here?

Check out this video interview by Reason.com’s Nick Gillespie with David Skarbek. Skarbek is a lecturer in political economy at King’s College in London and the author of “The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System.”

David makes a key point. In the 1960’s, gangs did not dominate prisons.

This was because prison populations were small enough for the inmates to “police themselves.” They lived by the “convict code” of behavior.

Each inmate was a known entity. There was peer pressure to behave yourself.

But when the prison populations exploded in the decades thereafter, the average inmate became anonymous.

Gangs formed to fill the “governance gap” and protect members from threats.

But the catch, of course, was that the gangs lived by their own rules – or lack thereof.

Can’t go it alone

Here is the bottom line:

People need to feel safe and secure.

They will do whatever is needed to feel that way – even affiliate with violent gangs, if no other options exist.

Knowing this will give us a better understanding of our criminal justice system and life in prisons.

For example:

  • With a smaller population, people can know one another and be counted on to follow a code of ethics. With a larger population, people lose their individual identity and must follow a group.
  • Because prisons are closed environments, inmates do not have the option of leaving to find a “better” group with which to affiliate. They are stuck with the gangs that are there.
  • Bigger is not better with such institutions. Bigger breeds more anonymity and reliance on ad hoc social groups for safety and protection.

Life insurance for convicts

By the way, someone in jail or prison does have a tough time getting life insurance.

However, someone who has passed through the criminal justice system can get insured.

I was once able to get a policy for someone who was actually sentenced to jail time and about to be incarcerated…

That was an extraordinary case indeed!

Smaller is better

So what’s a convict to do? A lone fish is an easy prey in a sea of sharks.

But the choices of affiliation are tough indeed.

Do you think that a reform of our criminal justice system to reduce the prison populations would be a good idea?