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Interpersonal Violence and Social Order in Prisons (From Prisons, P 205-281, 1999, Michael Tonry, Joan Petersilia, eds. -- See NCJ-179472)

NCJ Number
Anthony E. Bottoms
Date Published
77 pages
This essay reviews the literature on prison violence, with emphasis on understanding such interpersonal violence within the context of the everyday social order of prisons as organizations.
The analysis focuses on the nature, extent, and measurement of interpersonal prison violence; factors related to this violence; the impacts of a prison's environmental conditions; how the daily social order is maintained in most prisons most of the time; and current knowledge related to inmate-staff and inmate-inmate violence. The discussion notes that inmate characteristics; aspects of the prison environment; and the continual dynamic interaction between prisoners, prison staff, and the physical and social context within which they are placed influence the incidence of interpersonal violence. Enhanced physical restrictions can often reduce levels of violence due to restrictions on opportunity; however, they may also sometimes lead to a loss of legitimacy that can escalate violence. Previously understudied aspects of prison social life include routines and staff-prisoner relationships, both of which are central to the maintenance of everyday social order. Prisoner-staff assaults are particularly associated with the potential friction points of the prison regime and the prison day; however, some officers seem more skilled at handling these friction points in ways that avoid violence. The study of prisoner-prisoner violence presents a paradox, in that a frequently described pervasiveness of the rule of force within inmate society exists alongside surprisingly high levels of day-to-day prisoner safety. Explaining this paradox is a crucial issue for future research. Tables, figures, footnotes, and 118 references (Author abstract modified)