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Crime File: Inside Prisons

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This video cassette, number 20 in the Crime File series, portrays a three-member panel discussing prison conditions in Texas both before and after a 1980 court order for the reform of prison management practices, implications of the Texas experience for prison management, and lessons for prison management to be drawn from the experiences of the experimental Federal correctional facility in Butner, N.C.
The moderator presents background material on patterns of management in Texas prisons before and after the 1980 Federal court order. Before 1980, a central feature of Texas prison management was the use of inmates as 'building tenders' to supervise inmates and inform the staff about inmate misbehavior. The inmate lawsuit that prompted the 1980 court order charged that building tenders brutalized inmates, administered medicine, and even performed surgery. The background presentation further notes that since the court-ordered change eliminating building tenders as a feature of management policy, reports of inmate violence and prison disorders in Texas have increased. Panelist George Beto, former Director of the Texas Department of Corrections, argues that prison management prior to the 1980 court order was effective in maintaining discipline and order in the prisons; the brutality charged in the lawsuit, he claims, was not prevalent. Panelist Alvin Bronstein, of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, argues that violence was rampant in Texas prisons prior to 1980, but reports of this violence were suppressed. He claims that Texas had a repressive prison regime that dehumanized inmates. In a discussion of remedies for prison violence and disorders, panelist Norval Morris, of the University of Chicago Law School, argues for smaller prison facilities. In the final segment of the video, the experimental Federal correctional facility at Butner, N.C., is described. It is a small facility (420 inmates) housing a random selection of inmates, most of whom are serving multiple-year sentences for crimes against persons. The prison has had no inmate homicides and few assaults. Lessons are drawn for the style of prison management and design that facilitates humane inmate treatment and inmate personal safety.

Date Published: January 1, 1984