Supermax Prisons: Myths, Realities, and the Politics of Punishment in American Society

Jesenia Pizarro, Rutgers University
Vanja M.K. Stenius, Rutgers University
Travis C. Pratt, Washington State University

In recent years a number of new approaches in corrections have developed- one of which is the super-maximum, or "supermax," prison. Supermax prisons are characterized as one of, if not the most, punitive forms of punishment in American society. The extant empirical research on supermax facilities suggests that these institutions have the potential to damage inmates' mental health while failing to meet their purported goals, resulting in added problems for correctional administrators and increased economic costs to public budgets without apparent benefits. As a result one has to ask why supermax prisons are so popular. This paper explores the roots of these controversial institutions to better understand the reasons of their increased popularity in recent years. Existing research suggests that supermax prisons are a prime example of the shift in the cultural sensibilities of society towards greater punitiveness.

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Updated 05/20/2006