Power Negotiation Within a Closed Prison Setting

Ryan S. King, The American University
Robert Johnson, The American University

Social control in prison is rooted in the daily struggle between staff and inmates to secure and use power. If we assume both groups are rational actors seeking to maximize their position within a closed system, where power is a zero-sum commodity, then a process of negotiation may best explain and describe how these two social groups interact daily with one another. This piece borrows from the work of political scientist James Scott, using his theory of public versus hidden transcripts, to contrast the ways in which correctional officers seek to maintain social control through institutional means, while inmates engage in hidden forms of resistance that allow them to exercise control upon the social structure within the prison. The negotiation process delineated in this paper applies a relational approach to officer-inmate interactions, stressing a micro-political model in which institutional equilibrium is maintained via a system of continually evolving individual negotiations of power between inmate and staff groups.

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Updated 05/20/2006