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Causes of Prison Riots in the United States

Causes of Prison Riots in the United States

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.

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