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Effect of Supermaximum Security Prisons on Aggregate Levels of Institutional Violence

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 41 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2003 Pages: 1341-1376
Date Published
November 2003
36 pages

This study examined the effect of supermaximum security prisons on levels of institutional violence within three State prison systems that have deployed such prisons.


In search of an effective means to control violent, disruptive inmates, “supermaximum” prisons emerged as a new technique for controlling institutional violence. The perceived effectiveness of supermaximum security correctional facilities lies in their extreme restrictions on movement and interaction. However, there have been no compelling empirical analyses presented to substantiate the value of supermaximums as mechanisms of social control. This study, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, examined the effect of supermaximum prisons on aggregate levels of violence in three State prison systems, Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota using a multiple interrupted time series analysis design. The Utah Department of Corrections was included as a comparison State to allow for an assessment of nonlocal historical threat to validity. It was hypothesized that supermaximum prisons reduce levels of inmate-on-inmate violence. No support was found for this hypothesis. Findings revealed that the opening of a supermaximum had no effect on eight of the measures of institutional violence examined across the three States. The implementation of a supermaximum was associated with a temporary increase in assaults against staff. The data indicated that the effectiveness of supermaximum prisons as a mechanism to enhance prison safety remains largely speculative. The data presented do not provide affirmative proof of the value of supermaximum prisons. Most of the findings are inconsistent with expectations derived from deterrence and incapacitation theory. References

Date Published: November 1, 2003