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County Workhouse - A Case Study of Disorder and Symbolic Expression in a Correctional Establishment

NCJ Number
F K Hughes
Date Published
207 pages
Results are reported from a study of the organization of the staff and the experiences of inmates in a county minimum security correctional facility in the Northeastern United States.
The facility averaged a daily population of 100 inmates, with full-time staff of 44. Data, which were collected over a 14-month period, consisted of field notes from participant observation and unstructured interviews with 61 inmates, 17 staff members, and 1 county offical. The mandate of the facility was to incarcerate people convicted of misdemeanors who received sentences of less than a year. Many misdemeanors were alcohol-related and tended to be repeated. The relationship between correctional officers and inmate repeaters tended to be benevolent and paternalistic. Close to the time the fieldwork began, young, primarily minority, males accused of felonies or being held for sentencing were sent to the facility because of overcrowding in the county jail. The correctional officers, fearing a security problem, but operating without the benefit of a clear, detailed security policy vis-a-vis the more dangerous inmates, engaged in inconsistent, often arbitrary repressive behavior toward the new type of inmate. A riot broke out which involved 27 of the newer inmates. After the riot was quelled, officers systematically maced, stripped, and beat the rioters and placed them in isolation on a diet of bread and water for two weeks. The events point up the importance of having facility structures, policies, and staff training appropriate for the inmates being housed. A symbolic interpretation of the riot as a ritual of passage (moving from one status in a group to another status) is discussed. The structures of the interviews and supplementary material are appended. A bibliograhy of about 75 citations is provided.


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