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Exploring the Causes and Consequences of Restrictive Housing in America's Prisons and Jails

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $1,410,096)

A growing body of research attests to the dramatic growth in, and harmful outcomes associated with, the use of restrictive housing (RH) to manage incarcerated people. Even so, critical gaps in the field remain and research is needed to understand the extent to which RH is used and the impact it has on correctional officer (CO) well-being. The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), in partnership with the UNC School of Social Work and OHSU, proposes a project with two objectives: (1) to describe the national use of RH and step-down programs in prisons and jails, and (2) to assess the impact of working in RH on CO mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
To achieve the first objective, Vera will undertake several research activities. First, Vera will review RH policies from ten jurisdictions and conduct a national survey of all state prison systems and a representative sample of jails in order to create a standardized taxonomy of RH types, determine the number of people held in each type, and the availability of step-down programs. Second, Vera will conduct semi-structured and structured interviews with administrators to elicit feedback on survey results, understand development of step-down programs, and add operational context to our findings. Third, Vera will analyze individual-level administrative data from eight state departments of corrections for CY 2015 and 2016 to determine how RH is used in prisons and what factors are associated with individuals being placed in RH.
To achieve the second objective, Vera will use a mixed-methods approach to gather data on a range of factors related to CO well-being such as organizational climate, physical and emotional wellness, and correctional orientation, at the Oregon Department of Corrections and North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Complementary methods will include: a survey of 400 COs (half of whom work in RH and half of whom work in GP); focus groups of COs; interviews with administrators who oversee management of RH units; observation of RH and GP units; and administrative data analysis to report on employer-collected wellness measures such as shift time,absenteeism, and work-related injuries.
Vera will engage a national audience by creating standardized definitions and recommendations around the use of RH and by developing research briefs, peer-reviewed publications, and periodic articles. Through this work, Vera will bring research directly to the policymakers and practitioners who are making decisions about how to reduce the use of RH and improve CO well-being. ca/ncf

Date Created: September 26, 2016