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The Exercise of Power in Prison Organizations and Implications for Legitimacy

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology Volume: 106 Issue: 1 Dated: 2016 Pages: 125-165
Date Published
41 pages
This study focused on (a) individual and prison level effects on the degree to which officers generally rely on different power bases when exercising their authority, and (b) whether more or less reliance on different power bases at the facility level impacts prisoners' general perceptions of officers as legitimate authority.

Extrapolating from Bottoms and Tankebe's framework for a social scientific understanding of "legitimacy," the current study theorized that differences in how correctional officers exercise "power" over prisoners can potentially impact their rightful claims to legitimate authority. Analyses of 1,740 officers from 45 state prisons in Ohio and Kentucky revealed significant differences in the use of coercive, reward, expert, referent, and positional power based on officer demographics, job training, and experiences, as well as several characteristics of the prisons themselves. In turn, analyses of 5,616 inmates of these same facilities revealed that greater reliance on expert and positional power at the facility level coincided with inmate perceptions of officers as more fair, equitable, and competent; and greater reliance on coercive power corresponded with perceptions of officers as less fair, less equitable, and less competent. Related foci are important for enlightening discussions of the feasibility of maintaining legitimate authority in a prison setting. How officers might maintain legitimate authority is discussed in light of the study's specific findings. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2016