Inside out: The challenge of prison-based criminal organizations Brookings
Benjamin Lessing  |  September 2016

In Central America, Brazil, and even the United States, prison gangs have evolved from small predatory groups to sophisticated criminal organizations with the capacity to organize street-level crime, radically alter patterns of criminal violence, and, in the extreme, hold governments hostage to debilitating, orchestrated violence and corruption. Prison gangs present three distinct problems for policymakers. First, many typical responses to prison-gang activity have unintended and deeply counterproductive consequences. Second, it is unclear that reducing incarceration rates or improving prison conditions would neutralize the authority that prison gangs have accumulated as a result of mass-incarceration policies. And, finally, it is not clear that reducing prison-gang authority would produce positive outcomes.