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Collective Action in Prisons: Protests, Disturbances, and Riots

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 37 Issue: 4 Dated: November 1999 Pages: 735-760
Bert Useem; Michael D. Reisig
Date Published
26 pages
This study assessed competing explanations of inmate collective action through riots, disturbances, and protests, using data from a nationwide sample of 317 adult maximum-security and medium-security State prisons.
The inmate-balance theory postulates that collective disorders occur when prison officials go too far in asserting their authority. In contrast, administrative-control theory posits that collective violence is a product of unstable, divided, or otherwise weak management. Most previous studies have used data only from prisons that have experienced riots. Hence, the conditions thought to cause collective outbursts may be equally present in prisons that have not experienced such events. The current design allowed for a comparison of prisons that experienced riots and with some that did not. The study also examined the factors that generated other forms of collective action such as minor disturbances and inmate work stoppages. The data were provided by prison officials. Results revealed that the variables under the administrative-control theory heading helped account for these events, whereas the variables under the inmate-balance theory did not. However, the issue of measurement has not been fully settled. The possibility also exists that administrative control and inmate-balance theories are complementary rather than competing approaches, although the data from this study gave no support to this idea. Tables, footnotes, and 70 references (Author abstract modified)