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Legitimacy in Corrections: A Randomized Experiment Comparing a Boot Camp with a Prison

NCJ Number
Criminology and Public Policy Volume: 9 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2010 Pages: 89-117
Date Published
February 2010
29 pages

This study examined whether perceptions of justice system legitimacy change during the course of incarceration; whether the type of correctional facility matters; and if so, why.


The findings of the study suggest that perceptions do change and that facility type does matter, but only to the extent that the facility employs specific legitimacy-building characteristics. By increasing positive experiences, decreasing negative experiences, and limiting environmental deprivation, correctional facilities can substantially improve inmates' perceptions of justice system legitimacy. Perceptions of legitimacy can play an important role in the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. This study, with support from the U.S. Department of Justice focused on two main questions. First, do inmates' attitudes toward the justice system change during the course of their confinement; and second, if perceptions do change, then what explains the change. It also examined whether these outcomes vary by punishment regime. In particular, what role might alternatives to traditional prison, such as boot camps, play in affecting perceptions of legitimacy? The study analyzed self-report data collected from a recent experiment in which inmates were randomly assigned to serve a 6-month sentence at either a traditional prison or a military-style correctional boot camp for adults. Tables, figures, and references

Date Published: February 1, 2010