Search About Newsletters Donate
Submitted 11:23 a.m. EDT
Letter to the Editor

Prisons do bad things to all people who occupy them.”

Alexandra Cox of New Paltz, NY

Dana Goldstein's assessment of the literature on prison guards neglected to consider some recent research that links prison guards’ perceptions about the people under their care and their jobs in the context of a broader socio-political landscape. For example, University of Minnesota sociologist Joshua Page's recent book 'The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California' examines California prison guard union activism in support of mass incarceration in the context of a transforming political landscape, and the subsequent effects on everyday punishment. He found a direct relationship between labor union activism in support of tougher penalties and the nature, scope and purpose of imprisonment in the daily lives of staff and incarcerated people.

Goldstein's analysis might have also missed some important research done about prison staff which takes a more critical look at staff perceptions of their organizational environments. In an evaluation of prisons in England, for example, researchers from the University of Cambridge found that staff perceptions of safety — or the lack of it — were related less to actual levels of violence than to staff members’ trust in senior management and their confidence in their job. Researchers have found that prisons where incarcerated people and staff feel that the authority and relationships are rooted in decency, trust, and respect tend to have lower rates of violence and disorder as well as higher levels of well-being. Uncertainty and instability in an organization may be also affected by the anxieties and emotions of all of the people within them. Thus, riots, disturbances, and escapes are not a simple story of incarcerated people's resistance to control, but actually a more complex reflection of illegitimacy of the prison in the eyes of everyone who walks through it. Prisons do bad things to all people who occupy them.

This letter written in response to