The Puzzle of Jail Order: Why Life Behind Bars Varies Across the World
by David Skarbek
New York: Oxford College Press, 2020
240 pp.


Christopher Calton ([email protected]) is a Ph.D. scholar in historical past on the College of Florida.


In The Puzzle of Jail Order, David Skarbek builds upon his governance principle of jail social order, which posits that in instances wherein the official governance establishments are insufficient, prisoners will type their very own establishments to safe property rights, facilitate market alternate, adjudicate disputes, and mitigate violence. Skarbek’s work rests on the intersection two fascinating topics of inquiry. Most clearly, he’s contributing to the quickly rising physique of literature on carceral programs. Though The Puzzle of Jail Order just isn’t a piece of historical past, Skarbek solutions historian Mary Gibson’s (2011) name for a extra international strategy to jail research, which stays predominantly centered on the USA and the West. Skarbek additionally builds on a much less prevalent physique of labor carried largely by George Mason-trained economists akin to Edward Stringham and Peter Leeson: research of personal governance. Like Leeson’s The Invisible Hook (2009), which appears to be like on the social order of pirates, Skarbek research the individuals who appear least more likely to set up practical programs of governance—criminals—to point out how casual governance establishments type and function.

Though Skarbek leans closely on his earlier work, there may be quite a lot of new perception even for individuals who are already aware of his analysis. The main target of Skarbek’s evaluation facilities on the connection between official and casual establishments—the muse of his governance principle of jail social order—however the e book is organized into two elements that respectively illustrate two newly developed options of his principle. By evaluating jail governance throughout numerous programs, Skarbek categorizes the governance regimes in his research into 4 best sorts: official governance, co-governance, self-governance, and minimal governance regimes. These best sorts construction Half I of The Puzzle of Jail Order (chapters 2–4). In Half II (chapters 5–7), he considers the circumstances that lead prisoners to develop both centralized or decentralized mechanisms of governance. Skarbek’s earlier work on the San Quentin and San Pedro prisons (Skarbek 2010, 2014) entails solely regimes that qualify as centralized programs of self-governance, in accordance with his new taxonomy. His new e book, due to this fact, presents a much more dynamic evaluation than something he has beforehand produced.

Every chapter is designed to spotlight a selected factor of his classificatory scheme by specializing in a consultant instance, however the strengths and weaknesses of the e book are most embodied within the chapters on Nordic prisons and Civil Battle prisons, respectively. The Nordic system highlights the significance of comparative evaluation by offering a de facto management group—a jail system that’s largely profitable in offering a high-quality system of official governance. Skarbek’s governance principle posits that prisoners will type their very own establishments on the situation of failure from the official system of governance. The Nordic instance supplies some empirical substantiation of this declare that Skarbek’s earlier research have largely accepted as merely abstractly intuitive. The Nordic jail additionally challenges Skarbek to elucidate the shortage of an off-the-cuff market financial system—he describes a system of sharing—which results in new concerns in regards to the circumstances upon which market costs develop in a restricted underground financial system. Whereas the Nordic system supplies essentially the most priceless distinction to the opposite programs Skarbek describes, it underscores the worth that the comparative evaluation presents throughout all chapters, in distinction to in-depth however remoted research.

The chapter on the Confederacy’s Andersonville jail camp through the Civil Battle highlights the weakest factors of The Puzzle of Jail Order. Andersonville is Skarbek’s instance of a jail that lacks each official and casual governance establishments, presenting the best problem to the governance principle of jail order. Skarbek acknowledges that “it’s truly considerably shocking that so little governance emerges” in Andersonville, since “the jail camp is filled with troopers, not prison offenders,” who confronted an “utter failure of official governance” (p. 63). He explains away this problem to his principle by suggesting that “excessive restrictions on their freedom…smother[ed] collective motion” (p. 64). Skarbek’s evaluation of Andersonville demonstrates a deal with the operative variables of his governance principle to the neglect of different probably related determinants of whether or not and the way prisoners type establishments. These omissions stem largely from the issue of Andersonville being each Skarbek’s solely historic and solely wartime case. In a single odd declare, Skarbek states that the prisoners “made selections—typically shortsighted due to the mistaken perception that prisoner exchanges would quickly free them” (p. 73), however this “mistaken perception” solely pertains to what the prisoners considered as a prolonged incarceration on the time—when penitentiaries have been nonetheless nearly non-existent and prisoners of conflict had historically, even early within the Civil Battle, been allowed probationary freedom. Relative to the opposite prisons within the e book, their perception in a brief time period in jail was not mistaken—Andersonville was solely constructed a yr earlier than the conflict’s finish. The query Skarbek neglects, in utilizing Andersonville as a comparative instance, is how rapidly governance establishments developed elsewhere? If the reply is something longer than one yr, Andersonville turns into a moot instance for Skarbek’s principle. Moreover, when describing the failures of official governance, Skarbek describes a contaminated creek that flowed via the camp, which “was so filthy… that prisoners would later throw thieves into it as a punishment” (p. 67). Is that this not an off-the-cuff governance mechanism? Skarbek doesn’t seem to acknowledge it as such, solely citing this observe for example the extent of filth the prisoners suffered with out (apparently) establishing governance establishments.

The Andersonville chapter additionally illustrates each the broadest downside and best alternative for his analysis: the distinction of prisoner governance establishments with these of society outdoors the jail. Andersonville highlights this oversight due to how most of the issues Skarbek describes within the jail weren’t distinctive to jail life, as his exposition implies. By not contemplating the state of the Confederacy in 1864, Skarbek makes it appear as if the shortage of market alternate and the prevalence of raiders, for instance, associated uniquely to jail camps. In actual fact, the circumstances at Andersonville are arguably extra reflective of the broader society on the time than every other jail Skarbek research. Wartime destruction and Accomplice state socialism had destroyed market alternate within the Confederacy effectively earlier than Andersonville was constructed, and raiders harassed civilians in a lot the identical means Skarbek describes within the jail. By neglecting to think about the society wherein the jail exists, he ignores vital exterior variables that relate to his evaluation.

This neglect of comparability to the broader society instantly outdoors the jail overhangs all of Skarbek’s analysis, not merely his evaluation of Andersonville. Whereas he rightly highlights the significance of comparative institutional evaluation when stating the contributions of The Puzzle of Jail Order, he fails to account for the number of comparisons related to his inquiry. In his first e book, The Social Order of the Underworld, Skarbek implicitly compares the establishments of jail governance inside a single jail, San Quentin, over time. In his most up-to-date e book, he explicitly compares governance establishments throughout numerous prisons. What all of his research lack is any evaluation of how the governance establishments that develop inside a jail examine of their operations and impact to the governance establishments inside the society that incorporates the jail. With reference to the efficacy of prisoner establishments, this comparability could also be an important. When he qualifies his description of San Pedro’s in depth system of self-governance to acknowledge that excessive instances of violence do happen, the purpose appears empty with none distinction to the diploma of violent crime in Bolivian cities extra usually; we can not choose the efficacy of prisoner self-governance in mitigating violence by evaluating it to the violence in different prisons that home prisoners from totally different cultures. As Skarbek continues his analysis, it is a consideration he would do effectively to deal with.

These critiques however, Skarbek continues to supply essential and unique work that raises questions no different scholar is asking, whilst carceral research obtain unprecedented ranges of curiosity throughout disciplines. Though The Puzzle of Jail Order doesn’t match the standard and depth of research of The Social Order of the Underworld (which stays among the best jail research I’ve but learn), Skarbek presents helpful insights and expands on his theories. Whereas many students have the unlucky tendency to rehash their early scholarship and provide stagnant contributions to their fields, readers can relaxation straightforward that The Puzzle of Jail Order raises new questions, presents novel concepts, and strikes Skarbek’s governance principle of jail social order ahead in essential and modern methods.