American prisons are relatively calm, but the ten years between 1970 and 1980 have been called the “explosive decade” of prison riots. Researchers have suggested a variety of causes for prison riots. Among them are these:
- An insensitive prison administration that neglects inmates’ demands.
- Calls for “fairness” in disciplinary hearings, better food, more recreational opportunities, and the lack may lead to riots when ignored.
- The lifestyles most inmates are familiar with on the streets.
- It should be no surprise that prisoners use organized violence when many of them are violent people.
- Dehumanizing prison conditions.
- Overcrowded facilities, the lack of opportunity for individual expression, and other aspects of total institutions culminate in explosive situations, including riots.
- A desire to regulate inmate society and redistribute power balance among inmate groups.
- Riots provide the opportunity to cleanse the prison population of informers and rats and resolve struggles among power brokers and ethnic groups.
- “Power vacuums” are created by changes in prison administration, the transfer of influential inmates, or court-ordered injunctions that significantly alter the institution’s informal social control mechanisms.