Prisoners' coping skills and involvement in serious prison misconduct and violence
TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract of Dissertation ................................................................................. 2 Acknowledgements ....................................................................................... 5 Table of Contents .......................................................................................... 7 Introduction ................................................................................................... 9 I. Conceptual Model and Hypotheses ................................................... 11 II. Literature Review .............................................................................. 17 III. Research Setting ................................................................................ 50 IV. Methodology, Data, and Analytic Strategy ....................................... 63 V. Disciplinary Reports, Disciplinary Process, and Sanctions ............ 109 VI. Individual Predictors of Serious Misconduct and Violence ............ 132 VII. Multivariate Analysis of Prison Misconduct ................................... 191 VIII. Staff and Prisoner Feedback on Prison Misconduct ....................... 230 IX. Discussion ....................................................................................... 282 X. Future Research and Policy Recommendations .............................. 343 Appendix A – RIDOC Disciplinary Severity Scale .................................. 365 Appendix B – Prisoner Self-Report Survey .............................................. 371
Appendix C – Prisoner Interview Schedule .............................................. 383 Appendix D – Staff Interview Schedule ................................................... 387 References ................................................................................................. 389
INTRODUCTION Prison misconduct and specifically prison violence generate serious problems in county, state, and federal prisons in the United States. While the collective prison unrest of the 1960s to 1980s has subsided (Colvin, 1992), individual-level and gang-related prison violence have increased (Gaes, Wallace, Gilman, Klein-Saffran, & Suppa, 2002; Edgar, O‘Donnell, & Martin, 2003; McCorkle, 1992). Prison violence poses a threat both to staff and prisoners alike, and generates high monetary and political costs for prisons and high personal costs for the people involved (Sykes, 1958; Johnson & Toch, 1988; Johnson, 2002; Hochstetler, Murphy, & Simons, 2004). Prison violence not only affects prisoners and staff members who have been victims of violence, but prisoners and staff who witness it. Some prisoners withdraw and attempt to ―do their own time,‖ whereas others become violent or threaten violence in anticipation of personal victimization (McCorkle, 1992; O‘Donnell, & Edgar, 1998). Finally, when prisoners are caught and found guilty of involvement in prison violence or serious prison misconduct, they are given disciplinary sanctions. These may include loss of visits or other privileges (including good time), being locked in one‘s own cell, reclassification to a higher security facility, removal to a short-term segregation unit, or sentencing to a long-term ‗supermax‘ type of prison or segregation unit. These sanctions further impede the potential for positive change in prison resulting in more time in prison, less contact with family, and less opportunity for rehabilitation (Poole & Regoli, 1980; Lovell & Jemelka, 1996; Riveland, 1999). They also add significantly to the costs of prison operations—more prisoners in more costly higher security facilities, costs of construction and operation of ‗supermax‘ facilities, and greater numbers of personnel to staff disciplinary hearings and segregation units (Lovell & Jemelka, 1996; Riveland, 1999).
Given the grave consequences and costs of serious prison misconduct and violence, it is essential that research on this problem shed light both on its underlying causes and potential solutions. Most of the research on prison misconduct and violence has focused on identifying correlates of prison misconduct (Zamble & Porporino, 1988). Researchers have found an association between prison misconduct and the individual-level factors of age, race, marital status, level of education, pre-prison employment, mental health status, prior criminal history, prior history of prison misconduct, and gang affiliation. Most studies have focused on static rather than dynamic characteristics of prisoners. Static characteristics are those that cannot be altered such as race, prior criminal history, or prior street gang affiliation. Dynamic characteristics are those that can be changed such as educational level, poor communication skills, and current prison gang affiliation. Several researchers have suggested incorporating dynamic inmate variables into prison misconduct research (Harer & Langan, 2001; Camp, Gaes, Langan, & Saylor, 2003). The current research examined a dynamic personal attribute, prisoners‘ ability to cope. The research tested whether prisoners‘ possession of positive coping skills affects their involvement in serious prison misconduct and violence. For this study, serious prison misconduct and violence included such offenses as escape, possession of a weapon, extortion, riot, threatening to inflict harm on staff or other prisoners, assault on staff or other prisoners, and fighting. In addition, the research explored the types of stresses and hardships with which prisoners must cope. This is useful for two purposes: 1) to provide prison administrators with information which they might use to minimize or address some prison hardships; and 2) to focus future coping skills training programs on those prison stresses and hardships that prisoners must regularly address.
I. CONCEPTUAL MODEL AND HYPOTHESES The central thesis of this research is that prisoners who are involved in serious prison misconduct and violence are less likely to possess and use positive coping skills compared to other prisoners. This thesis implicitly acknowledges the existence of various prison-related stresses and hardships that most prisoners must face. However it also assumes that prisoners‘ capacity to cope, a dynamic personal attribute, is an important factor. The current study drew on the social-psychological theory of coping that was developed by Lazarus and his colleagues (Lazarus, 1966, 1981; Lazarus, Averill, & Opton, 1974; Lazarus, Coyne, & Folkman, 1982; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Folkman & Lazarus, 1985). Lazarus and Folkman define coping as ―constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person‖ (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 141). The coping literature generally recognizes that two separate processes occur when one copes and that each of these processes are regulated by different conceptual systems within one‘s personality (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Folkman & Lazarus, 1985; Epstein, 1990; Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989; D‘Zurilla & Chang, 1995). These processes include the primary appraisal of a stressful situation involving an emotion- focused process (problem orientation) and the secondary appraisal involving a problem-focused process (problem-solving proper). While researchers have acknowledged that these two processes are linked, they are considered to be separate processes that affect a person‘s coping, be it positive or negative. Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub (1989) have taken these two separate processes and created subscales that measure specific aspects of both emotion-focused and problem-focused coping. Aspects of emotion-focused coping include positive reinterpretation and growth, denial, acceptance, and use of social support for emotional reasons. Aspects of
problem-focused coping skills include planning, suppression of competing activities, restraint coping (holding off on other activities while focusing on the problem at hand), use of instrumental social support, focusing on and venting emotions, behavioral disengagement, and mental disengagement. Given this social-psychological theory of coping, its emotion-focused and problem- focused processes, and the various aspects of coping, the conceptual model suggests that prisoners who do not possess positive coping skills will use negative ways of coping that are more likely to result in behavior that includes prison misconduct than those other prisoners who do possess positive coping skills. The focal research question was whether the possession of positive coping skills affects a prisoner‘s likelihood of being involved in serious prison misconduct and violence. In addition the study explored which aspects of coping were more likely to affect a prisoner‘s likelihood of being involved in serious prison misconduct and violence. Coping theory also acknowledges the role of one‘s general emotional state on the outcomes of coping (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989; Soderstrom, Castellano, & Figaro, 2001). As mentioned previously, the primary appraisal stage of coping involves an emotion- focused response that may include anger, depression, and anxiety. Thus another underlying assumption of the proposed research is that negative trait emotions, and in particular anger, anxiety, and depression, can affect one‘s ultimate behavior in a stressful situation. It is assumed that prisoners who easily become angry, depressed, and anxious may be more likely to engage in behaviors that are negative such as serious prison misconduct and violence. Researchers who have studied the coping skills of prisoners and other offenders have also studied their trait emotions (Soderstrom, et al., 2001; McDonald, 2006).
State emotions vary in individuals across time and depend on the context of a situation or a specific event. State emotions are those that a person is experiencing at the moment in response to a situation or event. On the other hand, trait emotions are a part of an individual‘s general make-up or personality. Trait emotions denote how often a person experiences an emotion—hardly ever angry or always angry. While state emotions are generally the result of a specific event (e.g. sad and depressed that a friend has died), trait emotions are those that a person might experience on a daily basis (e.g. always depressed). Therefore the study sought to determine whether the general traits of anger, depression, and anxiety were associated with the likelihood of engaging in serious prison misconduct and violence. It explored which of these three emotions, if any, was associated with a greater level of serious prison misconduct and violence. The study also explored the relationship between coping skills and these negative emotions. For example, does the introduction of ways of coping into the equation mediate or moderate the effects of trait emotions on serious prison misconduct? Conversely, do trait emotions influence the relationship between ways of coping and serious prison misconduct and violence? In addition, the conceptual model for the research acknowledged that there are other factors that affect serious prison misconduct and violence. These factors include those that are measured at the individual level, some of which have been found in previous research to have a significant effect on prison misconduct and others that have not been previously studied. They include both prisoner characteristics (e.g. age, criminal history, prior history of misconduct, race, prior substance abuse history, commitment to convention factors, and gang involvement) as well as other individual prison-related experiences (e.g. length of time already incarcerated, idleness,
involvement in programming, and psychiatric treatment in prison). 1 The current study controlled these other factors that might affect serious prison misconduct and violence in the study. However, the relationship was further investigated to determine what individual-level factors still affect a prisoner‘s involvement in serious prison misconduct and violence once one‘s coping skills and associated emotions were taken into account. For example, age has been found to have an inverse relationship to prison misconduct. However, age may be serving as a proxy for the natural maturation process which might result in the development of coping skills. Therefore the research tested whether one‘s coping skills and associated emotions interact with or mediate any of those other individual factors. Finally the study delineated the types of prison hardships that prisoners experience. It explored what types of stresses and hardships were most likely to affect the likelihood of involvement in serious misconduct and violence. The conceptual model for the quantitative analysis is below (Diagram 1). Four hypotheses were tested that are directly related to the theory of why prisoners are involved in serious prison misconduct and violence. Hypothesis 1: The greater the possession and use of positive coping skills by prisoners, the lesser will be their involvement in serious prison misconduct and violence. Hypothesis 2: The greater the possession and use of negative ways of coping by prisoners, the greater will be their involvement in serious prison misconduct and violence.
1 Institutional-level prison factors such as staffing levels, overcrowding, or racial make- up of staff were not included in this study because it was conducted in only one state and with only four facilities.
Hypothesis 3: Prisoners with stronger levels of negative trait emotions will be involved in greater levels of serious misconduct. Hypothesis 4: That the effect of individual level factors (e.g. age, criminal history, race) on serious prison misconduct and violence will be at least partially mediated by prisoners‘ possession and use of positive and negative ways of coping. Diagram 1 - Lack of positive coping skills, presence of negative coping, & the presence of negative emotions result in greater levels of serious prison misconduct and violence
The conceptual model necessitated the use of a quantitative research design to measure the various concepts listed above and allow one to test the stated hypotheses. The research incorporated a smaller qualitative component in order to gain descriptive and more in-depth knowledge about the actual process of coping to confirm and interpret some of the quantitative findings, and provide contextual information. The qualitative research focused on those
prisoners who have been involved in serious prison misconduct and violence and the staff who work with them. It is hoped this attempt at triangulation has resulted in a richer, more in-depth analysis that in turn will inform policy recommendations for decreasing serious prison misconduct and violence in prison. The qualitative research questions included: What reasons do prisoners give for being involved in serious prison misconduct and violence?
What are the prison hardships that they say are most associated with getting involved in serious prison misconduct and violence?
What do prisoners who are involved in serious prison misconduct and violence think of their abilities to cope?
What solutions do prisoners who are involved in serious prison misconduct and violence give for reducing misconduct and violence?
What reasons do staff members who work with this population of prisoners give for inmate involvement in serious prison misconduct and violence?
What solutions do staff members who work with this population of prisoners give for reducing misconduct and violence?
Do staff members perceive that prisoners can be assisted to develop more positive coping strategies?
II. LITERATURE REVIEW This chapter reviews two bodies of literature: prison misconduct and coping. The section on prison misconduct includes a brief history of the research on prison misconduct and violence and a summary of those individual characteristics that over time have been identified as significant predictors of prison misconduct. The second section covers several topics: the general prison adjustment literature, prison stress and the social-psychological concept of coping, the empirical research on coping in prison, research on coping and misconduct, and research on the relationship between coping and negative emotions. RESEARCH ON PRISON MISCONDUCT BRIEF HISTORY OF RESEARCH IN PRISON MISCONDUCT Early studies on prison misconduct focused on the characteristics of prisoners who received disciplinary reports (dreports) for misconduct, self-reported misconduct, or who were nominated by staff as presenting discipline problems (Flanagan, 1983). These studies examined a number of variables including age, offense, prior record, length of sentence, time served, education and/or intelligence, marital status, prior employment, race, visits received, and psycho- social indicators (Schnur, 1949; Zink, 1958; Wolfgang, 1961; Johnson, 1966; Ellis, Grasmick, & Gilman, 1974; Flanagan, 1980 & 1983; Louscher, Hosford, & Moss, 1983). Because a record of disciplinary infractions was one indication of maladjustment in prison (others include withdrawal into one‘s cell, suicide and other forms of self-mutilation, depression, and anxiety) and was used by prison administrators to make many kinds of decisions (movement to lower security, work assignment, parole to name a few), these researchers were interested in differentiating between those prisoners involved in prison misconduct and those who were not.
However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, researchers began questioning the narrow focus on individual-level factors in prison misconduct research and also questioned the validity of official misconduct as a measure of inmate behavior. Poole and Regoli (1980) questioned the discretionary enforcement of prison rules by correctional staff, and argued that official discipline could reflect staff bias against young offenders, minorities, drug abusers, or others. Around the same time, following an explosive increase in prison populations around the country, other criminologists began studying the effects of overcrowding on prison infraction rates (Nacci, Teitlebaum, & Prather, 1977; Walkey & Gilmour, 1981; Eckland-Olson, Barrick, & Cohen, 1983; Gaes, 1985; Gaes & McGuire, 1985; Smith, 1988; Anson & Hancock, 1992). The research on overcrowding was mixed. Some studies found that it contributed to prison misconduct and violence; others found its effect on prison misconduct was dependent on such variables as age and type of housing; and others found no association between overcrowding and prison misconduct and violence. Researchers also studied other prison-level characteristics and found several strong correlates of misconduct and violence including composition of inmate population, composition of staff, and prison security level (Sieverdes & Bartollas, 1986; Wooldredge, Griffin, & Pratt, 2001; Camp, et al., 2003). Most recently, there have been studies of prisons that examined situational factors affecting prison misconduct and violence (Gaes, et al., 2002; Wortley, 2002). All of this research was conducted amid a larger debate about inmate behavior in general and many researchers adopted either the ―importation‖ or ―deprivation‖ model as a framework within which to understand prison misconduct. Essentially do offenders import their tendencies towards violence and misconduct when they enter prison or do the harsh conditions of confinement result in the use of violence to stay safe in the prison? The deprivation model was
not applied to empirical research of prison misconduct until the late 1970s when researchers began studying overcrowding and using the model to begin focusing on prison-level characteristics. Although it was not discussed as the ―importation‖ model until 1970 (Irwin, 1970), early prison research on prison misconduct tested the model by examining the characteristics of prisoners to determine why some got into trouble and others did not. By the mid-1980s, penologists began integrating the two types of variables in their research of prison misconduct to determine which were more important. In their study of assault, Gaes and McGuire (1985) underscored the importance of examining both individual- and prison-level factors and they believed that over time the most important of these predictors would emerge without the ―trappings‖ of the importation vs. deprivation models. Eventually the integration of individual- and prison-level factors along with situational factors has become the norm, although some researchers still focus on the outdated models of importation vs. deprivation. Although it is clear that factors measured at the prison level and situational factors are important to understanding prison misconduct, the hypotheses of this research focused on individual prisoners‘ level of violent and serious misconduct within one prison system. While all of the factors were able to be measured at the individual level, some were characteristics of the prisoners (e.g. race, age) while others were experiences related to their incarceration (e.g. time incarcerated, prior history of misconduct). Therefore, an examination of the literature of those individual level factors most predictive of prison misconduct will be useful for two purposes. First it helps determine what factors should be included as control variables in the research. Second, it might shed light on whether prisoners‘ possession and use of positive and negative coping skills, another set of individual-level factors might mediate or interact with the effects of any of these individual factors.
INDIVIDUAL FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH PRISON MISCONDUCT The four strongest individual level factors associated with prison misconduct are age, prior criminal history, prior history of prison misconduct, and evidence of mental health problems. Other factors less strongly associated with prison misconduct are race and ethnicity, marriage, prior employment, education level, seriousness of current offense, time served in prison, prior substance abuse, and gang affiliation. AGE The age of the prisoner has consistently been found to be the strongest and most consistent predictor of prison misconduct from the earlier studies to the present (Schnur, 1949; Zink, 1958; Wolfgang, 1961; Johnson, 1966; Ellis, et al., 1974; Flanagan, 1980; Ekland-Olson, et al., 1983; Flanagan, 1983; Toch, Adams, & Grant, 1989; Anson & Hancock, 1992; Lovell, Cloyes, Allen, & Rhodes, 2000; Harer & Langan, 2001; Wooldredge, et al., 2001; Gaes, et al., 2002; Camp, et al., 2003; Peck, Jr., 2004; Griffin & Hepburn, 2006; Cunningham & Sorensen, 2007; Steiner & Wooldredge, 2008; Kuanliang, Sorensen, & Cunningham, 2008). In their study Camp et al. (2003) examined all misconduct and subcategories that included violent, property- related, drug-related, security-related, accountability-related (escapes) and other miscellaneous misconduct. They found that younger prisoners were more likely than older ones to be involved in misconduct and found this inverse relationship to be true of the total misconduct category as well as all of the sub-categories except property offenses. Since most criminologists acknowledge that younger persons are more likely to be involved in criminal activities than older persons (Cohen, 1955; Matza, 1964; Hirschi, 1969; Akers, 1985; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Anderson, 1999; Warr, 2002; and Laub & Sampson, 2004), it should not be surprising that the problem of inmate misconduct is greater when there are more youthful criminals in prison.
What is it about youthful prisoners, besides a general lack of maturity that might result in their higher involvement in prison misconduct? There is some evidence in prison misconduct studies that young prisoners possess poorer coping skills that result in more negative behavior. McCorkle (1992) studied ―personal precautions to violence‖ in a southern maximum-security prison for adult males through surveys of 300 prisoners and in-depth interviews with 25 prisoners. In his examination of different types of precautionary behavior, that is behavior aimed to prevent being assaulted, he found that age was the best predictor of aggressive precautionary behavior. Overall, his findings indicate that younger prisoners are more likely than older prisoners to misbehave in general, to be aggressive, and to handle potential violence by initiating violence themselves. Lovell, Cloyes, Allen, and Rhodes (2000) conducted a study of 232 male prisoners residing in Washington State‘s four Intensive Management Units to determine how, if at all, they differed from general population prisoners. Prisoners living in IMU (Washington State‘s equivalent of a supermax) are those prisoners whom the prison administration has classified as dangerous and disruptive due to their greater involvement in prison misconduct. Among younger IMU residents, they found two overlapping patterns: some younger prisoners used IMU as an informal strategy to gain protection from other inmates; and some of the younger IMU residents suffer from serious impulse control problems, often being described by staff as ―explosive,‖ or ―out of control.‖ Both patterns of behavior could possibly be related to a lack of positive coping skills on the part of these juveniles. Finally, age has been found to have an interactive effect with overcrowding, in that the relationship is strongest in facilities housing young prisoners thus indicating that young males are least likely to handle the pressures associated with overcrowding and therefore are more likely to be involved in misconduct as a result (Nacci, et al., 1977; Wooldredge, et al., 2001). Thus it might be a lack of positive coping
skills or the presence of negative coping that explains why younger prisoners are more likely to be involved in serious prison misconduct and violence, rather than just age itself. PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY AND PRIOR HISTORY OF PRISON MISCONDUCT Prior criminal history and prior history of prison misconduct are both strong predictors of prison misconduct and violence. Researchers who have operationalized criminal history by examining the number, seriousness, and/or recency of prior arrests or convictions have found a clear link to higher levels of prison misconduct (Johnson, 1966; Toch, et al., 1989; Gendreau, Goggin, & Law, 1997; Lovell, et al., 2000; Harer & Langan, 2001; Wooldredge, et al., 2001; Gaes, et al., 2002; Camp, et al., 2003; Peck, Jr., 2004; Griffin & Hepburn, 2006; Cunningham & Sorensen, 2007; Trulson, 2007; Steiner & Wooldredge, 2008). In the breakdown of prison misconduct into sub-categories (violent, property-related, drug-related, security-related, escapes and other miscellaneous misconduct), Camp and colleagues (2003) found serious criminal history to be a positive and significant predictor for all misconduct and all sub-categories of misconduct, with the exception of drug- and security-related misconduct. A meta-analysis of 39 studies on the predictors of misconduct pointed to criminal history as one of the strongest of the individual-level predictors (Gendreau, et al., 1997). There have been some mixed results regarding the severity of prisoners‘ current offense with some finding it a factor (Harer & Langan, 2001; Griffin & Hepburn, 2006) and another study finding no such relationship (Wooldredge et al., 2001). Toch and his colleagues (1989) also found a relationship when they limited prior arrests to those for violent offenses, believing that for some prisoners violent misconduct in prison is a continuation of a violent coping mechanism they had used on the street. Prisoners with severe prior histories of violence are also more likely to continue their violent offending in prison than are prisoners with no such prior history. Nachshon and