Book Forum

The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System

(Oxford University Press, 2014)

Date and Time
February 17, 2015 1 - 2:30 PM EST
Policy Center with Foyer
Featuring the author David Skarbek, Lecturer, Department of Political Economy, King’s College London; with comments by Philip E. Keefer, Principal Economic Advisor, Institutions for Development, Inter‐​American Development Bank; and Adam Bates, Policy Analyst, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute; moderated by Dalibor Rohac, Policy Analyst, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute.

This event has been canceled due to inclement weather.

Far from being just chaotic bands of thugs, prison gangs are sophisticated organizations, oftentimes with detailed constitutions, which adjudicate disputes, oversee markets within prisons, and facilitate the bargaining between inmates and correctional officers. In his book, David Skarbek uses economics to understand the mechanisms that enable these organizations to operate and their political and cultural dynamics, including the role of secret symbols, tattoos, and violence. Besides a disturbing analysis of the criminal justice system that has given rise to prison gangs as a significant social phenomenon, the book offers insights into the emergence of social organization under adverse conditions, with implications for development economists and practitioners interested in failed states and institutionally weak societies.