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Resolving the Paradox of Reform: Litigation, Prisoner Violence, and Perceptions of Risk

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: (March 1990) Pages: 103-123
B M Crouch; J W Marquart
Date Published
21 pages
The turmoil and prisoner violence that frequently follow court efforts to improve prison conditions have been called the "paradox of reform."
The implications of this paradox suggest that prisoners are often safer before the reforms than after and that high rates of violence and fear become a normal element of post-reform prison life. This study of the Texas Department of Corrections, a prison system that underwent a massive court-ordered reform in the 1980s, examines the long-term implications of litigated reform for violence among prisoners, prisoners' perceptions of safety (or risk), and the "paradox of reform" argument itself. Research is aimed at answering three questions: a) what is the relationship between recorded violence and perceptions of personal safety by prisoners before and through the reform process; b) was the prison environment less violent before the implementation of reforms, as has been assumed, and did prisoners generally feel safer; and c) how are perceptions of risk influenced by prisoners' race, ethnicity, and age and by the changing control structure. The data, gathered with reference to five periods, starting before the reform and ending after the adjustment period, show that the prisoners did not feel at all safe in the pre-reform period and that violence did not become the norm after the reforms; thus, the paradox of reform exists only in the short-term. 2 tables and 35 references. (Author abstract modified)