Long-term and Dangerous Inmates: Maximum Security Incarceration in the United States GCP-96-12

Jess Maghan
Department of Criminal Justice College of Liberal Art and Sciences

In the federal courts and in a few states, the judge does not have discretion to fix sentences. Rather, sentences are determined according to administrative guidelines based upon previous criminal record and the seriousness of the current offense. In these “guidelines jurisdictions” there is little room for lengthening a sentence based upon predictions of future dangerousness. Inmates define themselves and are defined by prison officials in terms of age, race, dangerousness, gang affiliation, and interests, but not in terms of the length of their sentences.
The juxtaposition of long-term incarceration and the management of dangerousness have come to represent an important custodial problem for the American penal system. The development of social control mechanism and classification systems is directly related to the containment of institutional violence. Ethnographic research on long-term inmates suggests that most attempt to come to terms with their circumstances. The significant operational problem of today’s prisons is to create an environment where a positive custodial adjustment can occur.

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