Prison Life for Women, Gay, and Transgender Prisoners: the Role of Fictive Kinships and Pre-prison Social Networks

David Skarbek (Brown University)

Abstract: How does prison social order vary across time and place? This paper examines the informal institutions that exist in two different types of confinement. First, in California, women prisoners often form fictive kinships to organize their social and economic interactions. So-called “prison families” are a source of intimacy, friendship, mutual support, and protection. However, unlike other informal prisoner institutions, membership in prison families is not permanent, mutually exclusive, or highly restrictive. Based on a review of research dating back to the 1950s, it also appears that this type of informal institutions has always existed. This stands in contrast to substantial changes in the operation of prisons, the informal changes in men’s prisons, and broader cultural change. Second, this paper compares women’s prisons to life in the Gay and Transgender prison in the Los Angeles County Jail for men.