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9 Crim. Just. Rev. 69 (1984)
The Effects of Prison Crowding upon Infraction Rates

handle is hein.journals/crmrev9 and id is 133 raw text is: THE EFFECTS OF PRISON CROWDING UPON
Department of Sociology
University of Massachusetts/Boston
Harbor Campus
Boston, Massachusetts 02125
Director of Systems
Georigia Department of Offender Rehabilitiation
952 East Tower
Floyd Office Building
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
During the 1970s the prison populations grew at an alarming rate and researchers became interested in the effects of
crowding on inmate behavior. Paulus, McCain, and Cox (1975; 1978) and D'Atri and Ostfeld (1975)found empirical evidence
of physiological changes occurring in crowded prison populations. Other researchers have also uncovered deleterious effects
due to crowded prison conditions.
Unfortunately, the work in crowding has lagged behind other areas in corrections and there are few accepted paradigms.
This research attempts to expand the current studies and, in doing so, examine the effects of crowding upon several groups of
criminal offenders. The research is based upon a sample of 21,500 inmates, plus a subsample of 1,300 teenage prisoners. An
analysis of variance and covariance found no crowding effects for the prison population as a whole. However, strong crowding
effects were found among young black violent offenders. For this group, crowding was a stronger predictor of infraction rates
than any of our control variables (age, time served, home county population density, race, or type of crime). We interpret these
results as artifacts placing high-risk inmates in the largest, most crowded prisons.

The American criminal justice system is facing a serious prob-
lem revolving around the public's demand for more severe punish-
ment of convicted criminal offenders (Blumstein, 1980). However,
this push for increased incarceration comes at a time when prison
overcrowding has become so acute that several federal courts have
suggested that current prison conditions brought about by the
increased populations constitute cruel and unusual punishment
(Bell v. Wolfish, 1979).
Overcrowded prisons, in addition to producing inhumane living
conditions for the prisoners, also produce many management prob-
lems for the prison officials. One of the most important problems
confronting officials centers around prison discipline. Studies by
Paulus, McCain and Cox (1975), Megargee (1976, 1977), Far-
rington and Nuttel (1980) and other researchers have documented
that overcrowded prisons experience greater disciplinary problems
than non-crowded prisons. In a study of the federal prison system,
Nacci, Teitelbaum, and Prather (1977) found that significantly
higher rates of inmate assaults occurred during times of high
density, but only among inmates of inmates of juvenile-youth and
young adult facilities. Megargee (1977) also found a relationship
between crowding and disruptive behavior in a study of 18-25 year-
old inmates of the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee,
Florida. Megargee suggested that the rate of disruptive behavior
was more strongly related to high density than to high population.
Given the findings from these studies and the fact that a dispro-
portionate number of inmates are young suggests that more
research is needed in the area of prison crowding. Also, the

preceeding studies illustrate the methodological problems associ-
ated with crowding research; namely, whether the unit of analysis is
the individual inmate, or an aggregation such as the year end
population. The literature on urban crowding has shown that
aggregation can grossly distort the intercorrelations among vari-
ables (Paulus, 1978), because heterogeneous populations contain-
ing diverse statistical characteristics are compressed into single
data points. Like urban populations, prison populations are hetero-
geneous, and are constantly changing in composition. Significant
changes in population size are normally accompanied by equally
significant changes in population characteristics.
Nacci et al.(1977) and Megargee (1977) based their infraction-
rate studies on aggregate statistics. Specifically, Megargee com-
pressed three years' activity in a 550-man prison into 96 sets of data
points, depending upon the reporting period for particular vari-
ables. A further limitation is that neither of these infraction-rate
studies controlled for salient inmate characteristics that might have
convaried with population changes, such as age, urban-rural back-
ground, type of crime, race, or time served.
The infraction studies also shared a built-in problem that appears
to be inherent in any archival study of crowding: changes in density
are always accompanied by the physical movement of inmates from
one place to another and, hence, into association with different
individuals and different dominance hierarchies. In Megargee's
study, the movement came in great bursts when an entire dormitory
in an eight-dorm prison closed for renovation. His finding that
infraction rates were correlated with density but not with popula-

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