The Danger of Dungeons: Prison Gangs and Incarcerated Militant Groups (Chapter 6) Small Arms Survey 2008 | Small Arms Survey
Benjamin Lessing  |  June 2010

Although prison gangs have long been recognized as a central factor structuring life behind bars and as a challenge for penitentiary administration, they have rarely been analysed as a threat to overall public security. Yet as worldwide inmate populations have grown, prison gangs have expanded in size and reach; in some places they now constitute major criminal organizations, capable of instigating significant episodes of armed violence outside, as well as inside, prisons. This chapter examines a variety of cases from around the world, with a focus on Brazil’s powerful prison gangs. It proposes a comparative framework that focuses on how gangs (1) consolidate control within prison units, propagate throughout prison systems, and project power beyond the prison walls; and (2) the implications for armed violence and public security in general.