U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Working on the Chain Gang: An Inmate's "Choice" of Punishment

NCJ Number
Sheriff Volume: 48 Issue: 6 Dated: (November-December 1996) Pages: 10-11,60
D Wilson
Date Published
3 pages
This article describes the "chain gang" program of the Maricopa County Jail (Arizona), a program that is one component of a policy to make the jail a punitive experience.
The Maricopa County sheriff believes jails should be humane but undesirable, such that inmates would rather obey the law than return to jail. In 1991 the citizens of the county turned down the request to build a $40 million jail; starting in 1993, tents were erected to house inmates, under the theory that if tents are good enough for military troops, they are sufficient for prisoners. To date, the county has erected two new jails that consist of 58 military surplus tents. Over the last 3 years, other decisions have been made and implemented to make the jails uncomfortable and undesirable, yet humane. First, smoking was eliminated; next, coffee service was abolished; recreation was discontinued; nude magazines and photographs were banned; and hot lunches were replaced with bologna sandwiches. For sentenced inmates, the only way out of lock-down is to "volunteer" for the chain gang. The length of the chain gang program is 30 days. Chain gang inmates are connected together at the ankle with three chains of five inmates each. The inmates are transported by van into surrounding communities, where they perform work details throughout the day. They are then returned to lock-down each afternoon. The details usually involve roadside cleanup of trash, debris, and weeds. Other details include weekly burials of the indigent at the county cemetery. Each chain gang is supervised by one armed detention officer and two posse volunteers. A recidivism study is underway to determine if the policy and programs are effective. If they can reduce inmate recidivism by even 5 percent, the policy will be considered cost-effective.


No download available