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Violence Against Prison Staff: A Literature Review

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2012
5 pages
This literature review focuses on factors related to inmate violence against prison staff and prevention measures.
Research has generally categorized factors related to inmate violence against staff into two categories: "importational" and "deprivation." "Importational" factors pertain to the high risk for violence that an inmate brings into the prison. These factors include a history of violence, youthfulness (age 25 or younger), and drug use. "Deprivation" factors relate to stressful, aggravating, and opportunity factors of prison life that foster inmate violent behavior. According to Jiang and Fisher-Giorlando (2002), prisoner-on-prisoner violence is more likely to be explained by situational and importational approaches; and prisoner-on-staff violence is more likely to be explained by deprivation and situational approaches. In prisoner-on-staff violence, one of the most obvious factors is what Bowler (1983) describes as the "vast power difference between the "keepers" and the "kept." There is some evidence that academic and vocational education programs reduce violence against staff. Lahm's (2009) study of both individual and contextual predictors of violence against staff found a link between staff-to-prisoner ratio and violence against staff. A lower ratio of staff-to-prisoner apparently invites attacks on lone officers supervising inmates. According to Kratcoski (1988), inexperienced staff is at a higher risk for violence from inmates. Staff with 1 year or less work experience was found to be significantly more likely to be targeted for violence. Some prevention strategies for prisoner-to-staff violence include having a mix of inmate age groups in any one prison, so as to dilute the youth factor in violence; reducing crowding; increasing staff training and experience; supporting staff authority; security crackdowns; and increasing prisoner access to programs and industries. 22 references