David C Pyrooz and Scott H Decker, Competing for Control: Gangs and the Social Order of Prisons

Date01 July 2020
AuthorDavid Skarbek
Published date01 July 2020
Subject MatterBook reviews
Book review
David C Pyrooz and Scott H Decker, Competing for Control: Gangs and the
Social Order of Prisons, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2019;
310 pp. (including index). ISBN: 978-1-108-73574-2, $34.99 (pbk)
This is a timely and informative book on a topic of great importance. David C
Pyrooz and Scott H Decker bring their wealth of knowledge and experience to the
study of prison gangs. The core focus of the book is a research project based on
interviewing gang and non-gang prisoners in a Texas correctional institution.
The primary contribution of the book is descriptive. They document many
interesting facts about both types of prisoners. A second contribution is method-
ological: interviewing gang members in prison is more informative than we
previously believed.
The foundation of the book’s analysis is a cross-sectional sample of prisoners
housed in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The authors use an interview-
based survey to question 802 people (368 gang and 434 non-gang prisoners) who
would soon be released from custody. The authors demonstrate that their sample is
representative of the population of prisoners, so they can therefore draw accurate
descriptive inferences. They also use data from both official prison records
and statewide law enforcement files. When crosschecking information reported
by prisoners with information from law enforcement, the authors show a high
degree of overlap. For example, the correlation between self-reported gang mem-
bership and membership according to administrative records is about 83%.
This suggests that, conditional on access and funding, we can learn much from
speaking with gang members.
The book draws on these data to ask a range of questions about prison and
gangs. They look at the characteristics of who joins gangs, how influential gangs
are in prison, whether people in gangs experience more misconduct and victimi-
zation than non-gang members, and how people avoid, join, and leave gangs.
Each chapter typically proceeds in two stages; they first compare gang members
and non-gang members and then they examine variation across four types of
gangs. The authors are detailed in explaining and analyzing the data. More gen-
erally, the book also provides a useful overview of the existing literature.
They find significant differences between the characteristics of gang members
and non-gang members (chapter 4). Gang members are younger, more likely to be
Punishment & Society
2020, Vol. 22(3) 386–388
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474520915739

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