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Sociopolitical Context of Prison Violence and Its Control: A Case Study of Supermax and Its Effect in Illinois

NCJ Number
The Prison Journal Volume: 88 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2008 Pages: 94-122
Date Published
March 2008
29 pages

This study explored the sociopolitical context of prison violence and its control in Illinois and discusses the events that led to the opening of Tamms Correctional Center, a supermax prison located in southern Illinois.


The decision to establish a supermax prison in Illinois was politically based and part of a governmental response to the perception that action was required to address prison violence and disorder in Illinois. Apparently, there was little effort to assess various alternatives for countering prison violence and disorder. The opening of Tamms did not have a significant impact on inmate-on-inmate assaults; however, it was associated with reductions in staff assaults. This finding provides partial support for the hypothesis that supermax facilitates increased systemwide levels of prison safety. The results are not wholly consistent, however, with deterrence or incapacitation, which predict similar impacts for inmate and staff assaults. The analysis found that the use of a supermax facility was associated with an abrupt, permanent reduction in the systemwide use of lockdown, which supports the hypothesis that supermax has a normalizing effect on prisons with less severe security conditions. A quasi-experimental interrupted time series design was used to test whether the crackdown and the opening of Tamms resulted in greater systemwide levels of prison safety and order. This involved making consecutive observations of one or more dependent measures over a relatively long time period. Two aggregate measures of prison safety--inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults--were obtained from the Illinois Department of Corrections for 2001 and 2002. Prison order was measured as the total number of days per month that prison facilities were placed on lockdown. 3 tables, 3 figures, 6 notes, and 48 references

Date Published: March 1, 2008