Chris Blattman

How violence creates social order in prisons

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With the antenna up my sleeve and the magazines chafing my ribs, I joined my party in the neutral patch of grass in the middle of the yard. There we met the group of men who were helping their court member collect his bill. It reminded me of Napoleon sitting down with the czar on a raft in the middle of a border river. This central clearing was used for such resolutions every day. After the appropriate declarations of force had been made and sabers had been sufficiently rattled, a solution was reached that did not leave anyone hurt. Our side did not permit their side to harm the debtor, but the debt was acknowledged. A collection was taken to pay the bill, and no blood was shed. The social order had been restored, but only after the prospect of violence had arisen.

A first hand account of the logic of prison violence. Very insightful. Reminds me of Diego Gambetta on the Sicilian Mafia– what fills the gap when the state chooses not to enforce contracts. Highly recommended.

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