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Meaning of Punishment: Inmates' Orientation to the Prison Experience

NCJ Number
Prison Journal Volume: 77 Issue: 2 Dated: (June 1997) Pages: 135-167
Date Published
33 pages

Inmate attitudes toward the prison experience and perception of sentencing intents were studied by means of a survey of 114 minimum-security and 111 maximum-security Federal prisoners in Indiana 4 months after prison admission.


Data were collected as part of a larger classification study conducted at the United States Federal Penitentiary and the Federal Prison Camp at Terre Haute, Ind. between 1986 and 1988. The research focused on inmates' identification with the sentencing intents of deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, and retribution; the relationships among these orientations; and factors associated with the orientations. Results revealed that inmates in both samples either adhered to several orientations, accepting notions of rehabilitation while also finding prison to be a deterrent, deserved, and a reparation, or they saw no purpose to the prison sanction. Multivariate analyses for the penitentiary inmates revealed that inmates most likely to focus on rehabilitation were nonwhite, young, unemployed at the time of their arrest, and not entrenched in crime as a lifestyle. In contrast, older white inmates and those employed at arrest were more likely to believe that prison served no purposes. The findings were less conclusive for the minimum-security inmates. Tables, notes, and 63 references (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1997