Code of the Prison: Inmate Culture and Post-Prison Outcomes in an Era of Mass Incarceration Open Access

Grosholz, Jessica Marie (2014)

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This dissertation examines the influence of inmate culture on post-prison outcomes, including housing, employment, and recidivism. Using semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 40 formerly incarcerated men, I connect the current recidivism research with the inmate culture literature. Due to several punitive criminal justice policies introduced in the past three decades (e.g., mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing, and three-strikes laws), I first examine the nature of the inmate culture today. Results indicate that while the informal rules of the prison (i.e., the inmate code) are similar to the informal rules of the street (i.e., the street code), the deprivations associated with prison intensify the culture - there is a lack of choice when it comes to following the rules. Next, I investigate whether an adoption of the inmate code negatively influences post-prison outcomes. I find that those participants who are still abiding by the inmate code post-prison had a harder time finding employment and housing than those who "shed" the code prior to their release from prison. Additionally, those who adopt the inmate code post-release have reoffended since their last stint in prison. I conclude with the limitations of this research as well as a discussion of the contributions this study makes for current recidivism and criminological research.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Defining the Problem of Mass Incarceration and Recidivism.. 1

Research Questions. 6

Organization of the Dissertation. 6

Causes of Recidivism.. 10

Static Factors Influencing Recidivism.. 11

Dynamic Factors Influencing Recidivism.. 17

Conclusion. 33

Inmate Culture and Prisonization. 35

The Inmate Code. 36

Origins of the Inmate Culture. 38

Prisonization. 42

Inmate Culture, Prisonization, and Its Influence on Recidivism.. 55

Methodology. 60

Research Design. 60

Setting, Recruitment, and Sample. 61

Interview Instrument 67

Analysis. 72

Confidentiality of Data. 74

Limitations. 76

Ethics. 77

Conclusion. 79

Inmate Culture in an Era of Mass Incarceration. 80

Use of Violence. 81

Group Loyalty. 95

Minding One's Own Business. 97

Variations in Inmate Culture and Street Culture. 102

Conclusion. 111

The Inmate Culture and Post-Prison Outcomes. 113

Prisonization among Formerly Incarcerated Participants. 114

Prisonization and Post-Prison Outcomes. 127

Conclusion. 142

Conclusion: Culture Matters. 144

Summary of Findings and Theoretical Implications. 144

Limitations and Future Directions. 149

Conclusion. 151



Table 1: Demographic Characteristics of Formerly Incarcerated Interviewees. 169

Table 2: Adoption of Inmate Code During and After Prison. 172

Table 3: Adoption of Inmate Code and Housing. 173

Table 4: Adoption of Inmate Code and Employment 174

Table 5: Adoption of Inmate Code and Current Reoffending Behavior 175


Appendix A: Sample Recruitment Materials. 176

Appendix B: Focus Group Interview Guide. 177

Appendix C: Formerly Incarcerated Person Interview Guide. 180

Appendix D: Consent Form.. 188

Appendix E: Script for Oral Consent 190

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