Associate Professor in Political Science, Brown University


David Skarbek

Winner, 2021 Outstanding Book Award 

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, International Section

Available now from OUP and Amazon.

Many people think prisons are all the same—rows of cells filled with violent men who officials rule with an iron fist. Yet, life behind bars varies in incredible ways. In some facilities, prison officials govern with care and attention to prisoners’ needs. In others, officials have remarkably little influence on the everyday life of prisoners, sometimes not even providing necessities like food and clean water. In The Puzzle of Prison Order, David Skarbek develops a theory of why life in prison varies so much. He investigates life in a wide array of prisons—in Brazil, Bolivia, Norway, a prisoner of war camp, England and Wales, women’s prisons in California, and a gay and transgender housing unit in the Los Angeles County Jail—to understand the hierarchy of life on the inside. Drawing on economics and a vast empirical literature on legal systems, Skarbek offers a framework to understand why life on the inside varies in such fascinating and novel ways, and also how social order evolves and takes root behind bars.


"This is a subversive text." From a review by Malcolm M. Feeley

Endorsements


Prison regimes around the world and across history differ dramatically. Skarbek’s new book offers a groundbreaking argument of why this is so. He holds our hand in a fascinating, and at times, disturbing journey inside the world of prisons. I cannot think of a better guide.

--- Federico Varese, University of Oxford, and author of Mafia Life

Were it only for its extraordinary comparative scope, The Puzzle of Prison Order would already be a major contribution to the fields of prison studies and human rights, but Skarbek’s rigorous analysis of governance structures across varying prison regimes makes this a major theoretical breakthrough in law and society research generally, one that should be read by all who care about the nature of public order in institutions of control.

--- Jonathan Simon, University of California Berkeley

This is a subversive text...This book is to prisons what Anthony Downs’ An Economic Theory of Democracy, and Gordon Tulluck’s, The
Politics of Bureaucracy
 were to their respective topics. Just as theirs did, Skarbek’s book should shape research agendas on the internal structure and organization of prisons for decades to come. This is an accomplishment of the first order.
--- Malcolm M. Feeley, UC Berkeley


David Skarbek is one of the most interesting writers about prisons today. Using case studies from across continents and centuries, he develops a persuasive theory of extralegal governance which will help academics and prison professionals alike unravel the puzzle that is prison governance.

--- Nicholas Hardwick, Royal Holloway University of London, former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


...the new and excellent book by David Skarbek...

--- Tyler Cowen, George Mason University


David Skarbek’s book The Puzzle of Prison Order is a path-breaking effort .... a critical and highly engaging book, offering a new perspective on creating prison order. It breaks new territory, both because of its analytic contributions and because of its comparative focus...The book contributes to academic debates in political science over creating order and provides a model for the constructing of social theory using
qualitative, historical data.

--- Bert Useem, Purdue University, author of Prison State


​An illuminating work of much interest to students of crime and punishment.

--- Kirkus Reviews


David Skarbek’s provocative new book…presents a remarkable variety of ways in which order has been achieved within prisons.  It’s a fascinating book to read for the cases themselves, the range of alternatives in governance that exist, and how different prison orders emerge depending on the context…Skarbek has written an elegant and interesting book about the various ways prisons are organized and self-govern.  The range of institutional diversity is very interesting, and his conclusions are useful in many areas of the social sciences.

​--- G. Patrick Lynch, EconLog


Skarbek continues to produce important and original work that raises questions no other scholar is asking, even as carceral studies receive unprecedented levels of interest across disciplines.

--- Christopher Calton, University of Florida​​


...​​provides compelling evidence for the theory that comparative analysis of qualitative research can generate powerful explanatory governance theories ... Skarbek’s narratives about day-to-day prison conditions are engaging, and his theories are insightful. Moreover, Skarbek’s theories of prison governance recognize the humanity and autonomy of incarcerated people. 

​--- Christopher Rudolph, University of Wisconsin Law School


​​In The Puzzle of Prison Order, David Skarbek takes a large step in unpacking the black box of prisons.

--- Kaitlyn Woltz, George Mason University


Finally—and this is the grand merit of the book— Skarbek’s analysis succeeds in bringing different academic fields together that are often mainly concerned with themselves and usually work with much more limited country samples...one can learn much from such an audacious
study.

--- Georg Wenzelburger, Technische Universität Kaiserslautern



Talks & Media


Podcast on New Books Network, 9 June 2021 


Podcast on Lunchtime Social Science, 29 March 2021


Podcast on Political Economy Forum, 8 February 2021


Podcast on Probable Causation, 15 December 2020


Podcast on The Curious Task, 9 December 2020


Podcast with Omar Phoenix Khan on Justice Focus, 28 October 2020


Podcast  with Dan Krikoria on Beautiful Work podcast, 4 September 2020 


Interview on Top of Mind with Julie Rose, 30 July 2020


Podcast with Jonah Goldberg on The Remnant, 17 June 2020


Podcast Centre for the Study of Governance & Society, 24 March 2020


Discussed on the Unregistered podcast, 23 September 2019

Talk at the London School of Economics, 16 November 2015




Reviews


Georg Wenzelburger, Perspectives on Politics, 21 May 2021. This is a "Critical Dialouge" so I respond to his review. 


Malcolm Feeley, Public Choice, 29 January 2021


Kaitlyn Woltz, Review of Austrian Economics, 18 January 2021


Christopher Rudolph, Tocqueville 21, 10 January 2021


Christopher Calton, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, 8 December 2020


Bert Useem, International Criminal Justice Review, 16 October 2020


G. Patrick Lynch, EconLog, 11 October 2020

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution, 28 May 2020