The Criminals of Lima and Their Worlds

The Prison Experience, 1850–1935

The Criminals of Lima and Their Worlds

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 10 b&w photos, 15 tables Published: January 2005

Author: Carlos Aguirre

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes, Sociology > Urban Studies

The Criminals of Lima and Their Worlds is the first major historical study of the creation and development of the prison system in Peru. Carlos Aguirre examines the evolution of prisons for male criminals in Lima from the conception—in the early 1850s—of the initial plans to build penitentiaries through the early-twentieth-century prison reforms undertaken as part of President Augusto Leguia’s attempts to modernize and expand the Peruvian state. Aguirre reconstructs the social, cultural, and doctrinal influences that determined how lawbreakers were treated, how programs of prison reform fared, and how inmates experienced incarceration. He argues that the Peruvian prisons were primarily used not to combat crime or to rehabilitate allegedly deviant individuals, but rather to help reproduce and maintain an essentially unjust social order. In this sense, he finds that the prison system embodied the contradictory and exclusionary nature of modernization in Peru.

Drawing on a large collection of prison and administrative records archived at Peru’s Ministry of Justice, Aguirre offers a detailed account of the daily lives of men incarcerated in Lima’s jails. In showing the extent to which the prisoners actively sought to influence prison life, he reveals the dynamic between prisoners and guards as a process of negotiation, accommodation, and resistance. He describes how police and the Peruvian state defined criminality and how their efforts to base a prison system on the latest scientific theories—imported from Europe and the United States—foundered on the shoals of financial constraints, administrative incompetence, corruption, and widespread public indifference. Locating his findings within the political and social mores of Lima society, Aguirre reflects on the connections between punishment, modernization, and authoritarian traditions in Peru.


“[A] pathbreaking study of state punishment in Peru. . . .” — Carolyn Strange, Radical History Review

“[W]hat is exceptional is the innovative perspective that Aguirre takes in examining the world within four of Peru’s prisons…” — Shari Orisich, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Aguirre’s book is well organized and well written. It constitutes a model of how to combine in one investigation diverse sources, quantitative and qualitative methods, and levels of analysis.” — Iván Molina-Jiminéz, American Historical Review

“Many historians and most Latin Americanists will find this book engaging even if they lack interest in criminology. . . Carlos Aguirre addresses much more than the criminals of Lima and their world, giving readers an understanding of Peruvian society far beyond the walls of its prisons. .  . Aguirre has produced a work of impressive research. He analyzes a variety of topics, both broad and narrow in scope, and the completion of this difficult task merits commendation. This book contributes significantly to the understanding of Peruvian criminology, the penal system and Peruvian society in general.” — Michael Perri, Journal of Social History

“The author documents with excellence the long history of violent, inadequately administered prisons and explains the clash between prison reform doctrines and dominant social values that saw criminals as deserving poor treatment and severe punishment. . . . [A] fascinating book that presents important new material of interest not only to penologists but also to students of Peruvian and Latin American social history.” — Henrik Ronsbo, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“This is a well-researched historical understanding of institutions and confinement in Peru. … A major strength of this book is providing readers with key issues that are generally raised in the field of corrections while appreciating the importance of using a contextual framework….” — Pamela Schram, International Criminal Justice Review

“This well-researched, scholarly, and didactic work is highly recommended for professionals and serious students of history, law, corrections, and criminology.” — Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“Though the book steeps the reader in details, transporting her to a time and place that may be unfamiliar for many readers, it is accessible to nonspecialists and will no doubt enlighten many—not only about the history of Lima’s prisons but also about punishment and society in settings that are likely unfamiliar for many US readers.” — Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, Punishment and Society

"[A] broad ranging and highly rewarding study. . . . [Aguirre's] book helps pave the way for a new history of . . . Peru's modern period. . . . This book is not only a superb social and cultural history of Lima's prisons, but also a brilliant and challenging example of how some of the key issues in Peruvian history can be addressed." — Paulo Drinot, Journal of Latin American Studies

"[A] superbly researched and written book. . . . Aguirre's work contributes not only to our understanding of the Peruvian situation, but also provides an invaluable comparative perspective." — Kristin Ruggiero, The Americas

The Criminals of Lima and Their Worlds is an exhaustively researched and pathbreaking historical inquiry. It will, I think, stand as the definitive study on the criminal population and prison experience in Lima for many years to come.” — Peter F. Klarén, author of Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes

“A comprehensive, well-researched, and insightful study, The Criminals of Lima and Their Worlds brings together in a single volume a series of issues that other studies have treated separately: attitudes toward criminals and the sociocultural construction of crime; strategies and quotidian practices of policing; the importation and imperfect adoption of European positivist criminology; prison regimes and the birth of the penitentiary; and the relationship between crime, the courts, and broader questions of political power.” — David S. Parker, author of The Idea of the Middle Class: White-Collar Workers and Peruvian Society, 1900–1950


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carlos Aguirre is Associate Professor of History at the University of Oregon, Eugene. He is the author of Agentes de su propia libertad: Los esclavos de Lima y la desintegración de la esclavitud, 1821–1854. He is the coeditor of several books, including Crime and Punishment in Latin America: Law and Society since Late Colonial Times, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

I. Apprehending the Criminal

1. The Emergence of the Criminal Question (1850–1890) 17

2. The Science of the Criminal (1890–1930) 40

3. Policing and the Making of a Criminal Case 65

II. Prisons and Prison Communities

4. Lima's Penal Archipelago 85

5. Faites, Rateros, and Disgraced Gentlemen: Lima's Male Prison Communities 110

III. The World They Made Together

6. Daily Life in Prison-Part I: The Customary Order 143

7. Daily Life in Prison-II: Prison Subcultures and Living Conditions 164

8. Beyond the Customary Order 185

Conclusion 213

Appendix 223

Notes 237

Bibliography 277

Index 297
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3469-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3457-6
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