Violence Behind Bars: An Examination of Collective Action and Individual Violence in Adult Male Correctional Facilities

Susan M. Carlson, Western Michigan University
Sean Huss, University of Tennessee - Knoxville
William J. Hartley, Indiana Dept. of Correction/Western Mich.

Goldstone and Useem (1999) propose that prison riots be viewed as microrevolutions that result from causes that state-centered theory (Goldstone 1991) hypothesizes are responsible for revolutions against centralized authoritarian states. These include fiscal stress and other externally-imposed factors that limit administrative resources and effectiveness, dissension between prison staff and administration and/or divisions among correctional staff members, grievances about staff actions among prison inmates, widespread ideology among inmates that conditions must be changed, and staff responses to inmate grievances that are viewed as arbitrary, unjust, and/or ineffective. We test the microrevolution theory of collective prison violence using data from 700 adult male state prisons collected in the 1995 prison census. We hypothesize that the factors identified by Goldstone and Useem will be significant predictors of major collective inmate disturbances, while not having an impact on individual forms of prison violence (assaults, homicides). In addition, we expect that variables derived from traditional functionalist (e.g., Sykes 1958) and managerial (e.g. DiIulio 1987) theories of prison disorder will be more important in explaining individual types of inmate violence than they will in predicting collective disturbances. The results from our multilevel analysis provide support for the microrevolution theory of collective prison violence.

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Updated 05/20/2006