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Putting the "Con" into Constitutions: The Economics of Prison Gangs


  • David Skarbek


This paper investigates the internal governance institutions of criminal enterprise by examining the law, economics, and organization of the La Nuestra Familia prison gang. To organize effectively within the confines of penitentiaries, the gang needs to provide a credible commitment for member safety to potential entrants and a means of preventing predation and misconduct within the gang. I analyze the governance structure outlined in the gang's written constitution and show how it solves the collective action problems associated with multilevel criminal enterprises. (JEL D23, K42, L23, P16) The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Yale University. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • David Skarbek, 2010. "Putting the "Con" into Constitutions: The Economics of Prison Gangs," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(2), pages 183-211.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:26:y::i:2:p:183-211

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Koyama, Mark, 2012. "The Law and Economics of Private Prosecutions in Industrial Revolution England," MPRA Paper 40500, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Peter Leeson, 2013. "Gypsy law," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 155(3), pages 273-292, June.
    3. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati, 2012. "Indirect Effects of a Policy Altering Criminal Behavior: Evidence from the Italian Prison Experiment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 199-218, April.
    4. Mark Koyama, 2014. "The law & economics of private prosecutions in industrial revolution England," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 159(1), pages 277-298, April.
    5. repec:kap:pubcho:v:171:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11127-017-0437-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. William Luther, 2015. "The monetary mechanism of stateless Somalia," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 165(1), pages 45-58, October.
    7. Andrew Young, 2015. "From Caesar to Tacitus: changes in early Germanic governance circa 50 BC-50 AD," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 164(3), pages 357-378, September.
    8. Daniel D’Amico, 2010. "The prison in economics: private and public incarceration in Ancient Greece," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 145(3), pages 461-482, December.
    9. Skarbek, David, 2012. "Prison gangs, norms, and organizations," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 96-109.
    10. Seals, Richard Alan & Stern, Liliana V., 2013. "Cognitive ability and the division of labor in urban ghettos: Evidence from gang activity in U.S. data," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 140-149.
    11. Anthony J. Evans & Vlad Tarko, 2014. "Contemporary Work in Austrian Economics," Journal of Private Enterprise, The Association of Private Enterprise Education, vol. 29(Fall 2014), pages 135-157.
    12. Leeson, Peter T., 2010. "Pirational choice: The economics of infamous pirate practices," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 497-510, December.
    13. Peter Leeson, 2014. "Pirates, prisoners, and preliterates: anarchic context and the private enforcement of law," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 37(3), pages 365-379, June.
    14. Carl Mildenberger, 2015. "Virtual world order: the economics and organizations of virtual pirates," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 164(3), pages 401-421, September.
    15. Adam Martin, 2010. "The Analects of Boettke," Journal of Private Enterprise, The Association of Private Enterprise Education, vol. 26(Fall 2010), pages 125-141.
    16. David Skarbek, 2014. "Prisonomics: Lessons from America's Mass Incarceration," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(3), pages 411-421, October.
    17. Edward Stringham & Todd Zywicki, 2011. "Rivalry and superior dispatch: an analysis of competing courts in medieval and early modern England," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 147(3), pages 497-524, June.
    18. repec:spr:ecogov:v:19:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s10101-017-0199-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. T. Randolph Beard & Richard Alan Seals Jr. & Michael L. Stern, 2014. "Security and Government Credibility," Auburn Economics Working Paper Series auwp2014-07, Department of Economics, Auburn University.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • L23 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Organization of Production
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism


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