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Prison Officers and Their World

NCJ Number
K Kauffman
Date Published
283 pages

Through interviews with prison guards at Walpole (Massachusetts), this study documents the circumstances and attitudes of prison guards during the tumultuous prison years of the 1970's.


During the 1970's the Massachusetts prison system, along with many other prison systems, was in turmoil, manifested in murders, suicides, riots, strikes, and mass escapes. Attempts at reform in Massachusetts floundered in part because of strong opposition from prison guards. Interviews with the guards reveal a guard subculture and code of behavior as binding as that of the inmates. What guard recruits learned from their fellow officers and from inmates was far more influential in how they adjusted to the harsh prison environment than what was learned from the inadequate training they received. This study details officers' role in daily prison life, their relationship to a seemingly uncaring prison administration, their power struggles with inmates, their methods for coping with inmate violence, and the consequences of their own resort to violence against inmates. The study chronicles the impact of prison work on the guards and their families. Overall, the book concludes that the failure of the prison administration to appreciate guards' problems and perspectives has undermined attempts to reform prisons. 87-item bibliography, subject index.