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Investigating the Stigma of Prison Classification: An Experimental Design

NCJ Number
Prison Journal Volume: 83 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2003 Pages: 367-382
Lawrence L. Bench; Terry D. Allen
Date Published
December 2003
16 pages
This article examines the impact of classification assignments on newly designated, maximum-security-level inmates.
Classification is widely regarded as pivotal to the effective and efficient management of prison operations. Contemporary classification has evolved into a process in which a classification category is assigned based on facts, attributes, and characteristics pertinent to an offender. Because medium-security inmates enjoy more lenient supervision and expanded privileges than maximum-security inmates, the question under consideration is what impact specific classification designations have on offender behavior. Offenders were followed through the system for 1 year after being randomly assigned to one of the classification groups. During that time, they were monitored for their involvement in disciplinary incidents that resulted in findings of guilt. This study incorporated a double-blind procedure -- neither offenders assigned to the respective classification groups nor the correctional staff supervising the offenders were aware that the study was being conducted. The results indicate that maximum-security offenders that stand out on a number of dimensions such as length of sentence, severity of offense, prior incarcerations, and propensity for violence can be housed in medium-security environments with no increased risk of disciplinary involvement. Institutions that are considering expansion should give careful consideration to how much room actually is needed for costly maximum-security housing. That need is probably overestimated. The results also indicate that inmate behavior may be influenced by the stigma associated with a particular correctional environment. Inmates that were treated as medium security received no more weighted disciplinaries than inmates assigned to maximum security. The underlying belief that maximum-security inmates have a higher rate of disciplinaries than medium-security inmates was not supported by the results. 3 tables, 57 references