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Good Job or Dirty Work?: Public Perceptions of Correctional Employment

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 73 Issue: 3 Dated: December 2009 Pages: 40-45
Date Published
December 2009
6 pages
This research examined public attitudes toward the expansion of the prison industry and the quality of prison jobs, with attention to the apparent contradiction in viewing prison expansion as providing much-needed jobs while holding a low opinion of the job of prison guard.
A telephone survey of residents of Carbondale, IL - a small community (26,000 population) that is the economic and educational center of the southern Illinois region - found that most respondents viewed prison jobs as neither particularly good or bad, but of average quality. This perception did not vary significantly by gender, race, age, or income; however, those with higher levels of education held less favorable views of prison work than other respondents. Importantly, the age, race, and gender of a respondent were unrelated to the willingness of a respondent to become a correctional officer. This suggests that a diverse potential pool of residents may be attracted to correctional work. The most attractive aspect of prison work for most respondents was its economic benefits, i.e., pay, health insurance, a pension, and job security. In addition, respondents tended to view prison work as meaningful and socially beneficial. Respondents also expressed concern about the safety risks and negative work environment of a prison. The study determined that those who were willing to take a job as a correctional officer and those who held favorable views about the quality of prison jobs were more willing to support the building of a new prison in their community. This held true even after controlling for a number of socio-demographic and work-related variables. The analysis was not successful, however, in identifying the factors that influence the willingness to become a correctional officer. Most respondents favored attracting educational, medical, and manufacturing industries to the region rather than building a prison. 2 tables, 1 figure, and 14 references

Date Published: December 1, 2009