Keywords: Prison order; informality; pluralism; Latin American prison system; overcrowding regulations
The article presents a series of ethnographic observations made during various visits to "La Modelo" prison in Bogotá, Colombia. It focuses in particular on issues of informality and pluralism as constitutive elements of social order in Latin American prisons. Direct observation highlights the importance of the informal market and regulatory pluralism as mechanisms for controlling access to space and resources under conditions of overcrowding and hardship. Informal norms, customary orders and power groups cannot be seen as simply accidental factors; instead, they are constitutive elements of the social order in the prison. Observation also reveals the mechanisms by which the prison management attempts to draw and sustain a neat line separating the political, cultural and capital inmates from the poor, wretched, «common» inmates.