Exploring the Goals and Impacts of Supermax Prisons

Jamie Watson, The Urban Institute
Daniel P. Mears, The Urban Institute

Despite the cost and increasing use of supermax prisons, there remains little empirical research on their precise goals and impacts. Without such research, there is a risk that policymakers will use anecdotal evidence on which to base their decisions or will over- or mis-generalize the relevance of particular impacts identified by researchers. To address such issues, this paper draws on an ongoing study to explore the range of goals and impacts, both intended and unintended, potentially associated with supermax prisons. The findings are based on a comprehensive analysis of existing research, site visits to three facilities, interviews with over 50 corrections policymakers and practitioners, and a national survey of wardens. We conclude with a discussion of the research and policy implications of the study.

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Updated 05/20/2006