How does prison social order vary across time and place? This paper examines prison systems in Latin America, where officials typically provide few resources and limited amenities. Administrators are also absent, overwhelmed, or inept, and the quality of governance provided by the state is poor. In response to this state failure, prisoners play an important role in managing their own confinement and in governing their social and economic interactions. This paper uses existing qualitative evidence to identify and describe the self-governing mechanisms that emerged and operate in prisons in Mexico, Brazil, and Bolivia. These cases show that prisoners do not passively accept the consequences of state failure, but instead can play a substantial and positive role in prison operations.