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Over the past two decades in Brazil, state governments have effectively abdicated responsibility for managing prisons to the prisoners themselves. The power vacuum left behind has been increasingly filled by self-proclaimed facções (factions), comandos (commands) or partidos (political parties), most infamously the Comando Vermelho (CV) in Rio de Janeiro and the Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC) in São Paulo. Such prison gangs have been criticised for imposing violent order. There are two key objectives to this paper. The first objective, from a human rights perspective, is to explore the alternative view that for the majority of prisoners the power wielded by gangs functions less as an instance as a shield to the pains of imprisonment. The second objective, from a sociological perspective, is to explore the relationship between prison gangs and prison authorities. From both perspectives, gangs are significant for the role that they play both inside and outside prison. As all the major gangs across Brazil, the VC and PCC were formed among prisoners, but have gained influence in slum areas as well. In the absence of governance in the slums and prisons of Brazil, gangs are becoming important political players, providing the poor with essential goods and services, including security.