Law and Officials' Behavior in the Bureaucratic Context of Corrections

Christopher E. Smith, Michigan State University

The context of corrections has been subjected to three powerful continuing legal trends: 1) Supreme Court decisions that either freeze or diminish the definition and scope of constitutional rights for prisoners; 2) statutory enactments that impose significant impediments to prisoners' access to courts and their use of law to seek remedies for alleged constitutional violations; and 3) regular occurrences of publicized incidents in which prisoners endure violations of their legal protections, including protections against sexual assault and deprivation of medical care. This paper will evaluate the implications and consequences of these trends in considering the symbolic and practical effects of law in a bureaucratic setting that provides a fertile environment for the influence of the "penal harm" philosophy.

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Updated 05/20/2006