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Wardens' Views on the Wisdom of Supermax Prisons

NCJ Number
Crime & Delinquency Volume: 52 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2006 Pages: 398-431
Date Published
July 2006
34 pages

In an attempt to bridge the gap in knowledge and inform research and policy debates, this study examined State prison wardens’ views in order to gain insight on supermax prisons.


Overall survey results found consensus among State prison wardens that supermax prisons served to increase systemwide safety, order, and control and to incapacitate violent and disruptive inmates. They were recognized as being successful in achieving these goals. Wardens’ perceptions of effectiveness were influenced by factors such as serving as a supermax warden, working in a prison in the South, and holding a deterrence philosophy of punishment. The results suggest the need for much more careful, deliberate, and systematic analyses and discussions of the merits of these high-cost facilities. In recent years, super-maximum security prisons or supermax prisons have become a prominent and common feature of the corrections landscape. These prisons are high-tech, high cost facilities designed to house the so-called worst of the worst inmates in single-cell confinement for up to 23 hours per day. In 1999, there were approximately 20,000 inmates housed in 57 supermax facilities located in 30 States. To address current research gaps on supermax prisons and to inform policy debates about their merits, this study explored the views of State prison wardens, a group uniquely positioned to provide insight into supermax housing because of their executive responsibilities either managing supermaxes or the institutions held to benefit from them. Figure, tables, appendixes A-B, notes, and references

Date Published: July 1, 2006