Book Review: Competing for Control—Gangs and the Social Order of Prisons

AuthorJames C. Howell
Published date01 April 2022
Date01 April 2022
Subject MatterBook Review
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 4, April 2022, 613 –616.
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© 2021 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
Competing for Control—Gangs and the Social Order
of Prisons
Pyrooz, D. C., & Decker, S. H. (2019). Competing for Control: Gangs and the Social Order of Prisons.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 292 pp, $34.99 paperback ISBN 978-1-108-73574-2.
Drs. Pyrooz and Decker have conducted a landmark prison gang study named the
LoneStar Project. These highly regarded criminologists and gang scholars are emi-
nently qualified to conduct such a challenging study. Dr. Decker recently was recognized as
the most widely published scholar in gang research in the period 1900–2015 (Gravel et al.,
2016). Decker and Pyrooz (2015) were editors of The Handbook of Gangs, containing a
wealth of research on the gang topic. Undoubtedly ahead of all other young gang scholars
at this juncture in his career, Dr. Pyrooz already has authored or coauthored more than 50
gang research articles and book chapters. Pyrooz and Decker’s detailed prison gang study
(carried out in 2014–2018) is the first large-scale research on people in custody and the first
such study to incorporate a follow-up component.
Heretofore, limited rigorous research had been published on prison gangs, having begun
to advance slowly following Camp and Camp’s (1985) foundational study. Pyrooz and
Decker do an outstanding job in drawing attention to the most pertinent research to date and
integrating selected findings from prior studies that draw attention to key features and func-
tions of prison gangs. As examples, they acknowledge the noteworthy contributions of
Buentello et al. (1991) and Jacobs (1974).
Pyrooz and Decker selected the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison
system for study because it has long been recognized as having multiple prison gangs and
considerable gang activity (Howell, 2015). In the landmark Ruiz v. Estelle (503 F. Supp.
1265 (S.D. Tex. 1980) case, the court ruled that confined persons selected by Texas prison
authorities to help maintain order (called “building tenders”) was an unconstitutional form of
prison security. Once that practice was terminated, the control vacuum was quickly filled by
prison gangs. A state of chaos followed and persisted for some time (during which 52 homi-
cides occurred inside Texas prisons), and much of the violence was due to explosive inter-
group conflicts, mainly between the Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia gangs. Inadvertently
making matters worse, 70,000 prison beds were added across the state during the administra-
tion of Texas Governor Ann Richards (1991–1995), doubling the prison capacity to 128,000
people (Reid, 2012). At the time of Pyrooz and Decker’s study, they note that the Texas
prison system housed more than 11,000 confirmed gang members—more than the total
1055715CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211055715Criminal Justice and BehaviorBook Review

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