The relevance of inmate race/ethnicity versus population composition for understanding prison rule violations

Benjamin Steiner, John Wooldredge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

57 Scopus citations


The importance of order maintenance in prisons has generated numerous studies of the correlates to inmate misconduct. Very few of these studies, however, have focused specifically on the correlations between inmates' race/ethnicity and prison rule breaking. Race and ethnicity could be relevant to an understanding of prison rule breaking if inmates bring their ecologically structured beliefs regarding legal authority, crime and deviance into the institutional environment. Using data from two nationally representative samples of males incarcerated in state facilities, we examined the individual-level effects of an inmate's race and ethnicity on his likelihood of engaging in various forms of misconduct during incarceration, as well as the contextual effects of the racial/ethnic composition of inmate and correctional staff populations on levels of rule breaking. Findings reveal that the effects of an inmate's race and ethnicity differ by offense type, and the racial/ethnic composition of inmates and correctional staff have both main and conditioning effects on levels of misconduct. Implications of these results are discussed within a social control framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-489
Number of pages31
JournalPunishment and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2009



  • Ethnicity
  • Inmate misconduct
  • Prisons
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law

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