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I THE FIELDDaniel Glaser





Penology is the branch of criminology concerned with government policies and practices in dealing with persons convicted of crimes. Its etymology, from the Latin poena, meaning “pain” or “suffering,” reflects the early conception of punishment as the primary objective of state action toward criminals. However, in modern times interest in punishment has been largely replaced by concern with changing the abilities, interests, attitudes, and emotions of criminals. Accordingly, as we move farther into the second half of the twentieth century, we often find the term “corrections” being used instead of “penology.”

The treatment of criminals has always been motivated by (1) the feelings of hostility and desires for revenge that criminals arouse in their victims and in those who sympathize with the victims; (2) abstract philosophies, ideologies, and religious beliefs regarding punishment; (3) prevailing theories of crime causation. Usually all three of these motives and rationales operate simultaneously, but the sequence in which they are enumerated above corresponds to the historical shift that has occurred in the relative power of each to determine penal objectives. These objectives are epitomized by four words: revenge, restraint, reformation, and reintegration. All four have always been pursued to some extent, but there have been marked changes in the frequency with which each has been explicitly set forth as the primary penal goal.

Revenge and restraint

Evidence that government concern with punishing persons who commit crimes developed primarily to replace private vengeance-seeking by the victims and their kin is provided not only by historical accounts of early judicial agencies but also by objective statistical scaling of societies on the basis of their culture traits. Freeman and Winch (1957), in an analysis of 48 societies, found that where governments do not assume this private punishment function, the society rarely is able to maintain full-time priests; without full-time priests, they do not have full-time teachers; unless they have full-time teachers, they lack full-time bureaucrats; and so on up the scale of societal complexity. Thus, it seems well established that penal activity is a prerequisite to much elaboration of other functions by government and religious institutions; when there is no penal program, the regulation of society by church or state is continually subject to restriction by the anarchy of private feuding among offenders and victims.

Until the eighteenth century in Europe, and much later in many other areas, the structuring of penal policy by the prevailing religious and political status hierarchies was explicit. The nobility was subject to a criminal law different in its specification of penalties from that which prescribed punishments for commoners. The latter were dealt with most harshly, especially when the victims of their offenses were of the nobility. This was justified by an explanation of crime as the consequence of a base nature, a condition presumed to be most frequent in the “low-born.” An alternative theory, that crimes result from the possession of one’s spirit by the devil, through witchcraft and wizardry, justified both the imposition of some punishment by clerical courts and a strong church influence on the penal policies of secular courts.

Two major influences on punishment that may be latent at all times were blatantly manifest in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century. These influences were the social distance between the punisher and the punished and the economic interests of the punisher. When the punisher could perceive the offender as both alien and inferior, there was little reluctance to impose death, torture, physical mutilation, severe corporal punishment, or some combination of these. When punisher and punished were peers, the most frequent penalties were forfeiture of property, forced labor, and banishment. Rusche and Kirschheimer (1939) exhaustively document an argument that the supply of labor also determined penal policy with respect to lower-class offenders: when labor was scarce, punishment was most often forced work in galleys or in houses of correction, but when there was a surplus of labor, punishment by death or by transportation to the colonies prevailed. [SeePunishment.]

Beccaria and modern penology

There developed in the Enlightenment, partly in reaction to the severity of punishments imposed by the nobility, a conception of all men as equal. This was equality, not in possessions or status, but in rights and in potential amenability to guidance by reason. In 1764 these conceptions were brilliantly used by Cesare Beccaria as postulates for a new penal policy. His Essay on Crimes and Punishments had an immediate and tremendous influence throughout Europe and America and is often considered the beginning of modern penology. In the half century that followed, Beccaria’s arguments were extended by Voltaire, Bentham, Romilly, and others, reflecting the philosophy of utilitarianism. This resulted in so-called “classical” criminal law, which still provides the framework for our penal codes. This legal perspective calls for punishments based on the offense, rather than on the offender, and calculated to inflict no more pain than suffices to offset the satisfaction that a crime might yield to its perpetrator.

Imprisonment and forced labor, because their ostensible severity can be precisely graduated in terms of time, were well suited to the employment by judges of what Bentham called a “felicific calculus.” This is the prescription of punishment in precise degrees of severity, so that the pain the court imposes balances the presumed gratifications from the crime. The high valuation of liberty and the respect for all humans which were fostered in the democratic revolutions also promoted a preference for imprisonment or labor as penalties, rather than torture or death. Furthermore, the public felt protected when felons were confined. As a result of these several factors, during the half century which followed publication of Beccaria’s work, imprisonment replaced capital and corporal punishment in western Europe for over two hundred felonies.

Reformation and the reformatory movement

“Classical” legal philosophy stressed dual objectives : “individual deterrence” was to offset the happiness that an offender supposedly gains from his crime, and “general deterrence” was to make nonoffenders perceive crime as not conducive to happiness. However, a different justification for imprisonment was promulgated around the time of the American Revolution in the Pennsylvania colony, many of whose Quaker leaders had been imprisoned in Britain for their religious beliefs.

Like some European Roman Catholic penal pioneers in the same period, the Quakers were inspired by the monastery cells in which monks sought spiritual reformation through isolation and meditation. Prevailing penal construction congregated groups of inmates in large rooms, but the Pennsylvanians advocated a separate cell for each offender, cutting him off from communication with his fellows. They claimed that this promoted more penitent thought, especially when these “penitentiaries” limited the reading matter in each cell to a Bible and religious tracts, with little or no work and with visits only from preachers and pious laymen.

The “Pennsylvania system” spread rapidly. It became the predominant prison pattern in continental Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, it was opposed as costly, and its claims of reformation were challenged by advocates of a system developed at a prison in Auburn, New York, during the first half of the nineteenth century. The Auburn system, which soon prevailed in the United States, emphasized solitary confinement at night, but congregate work during the day, under a rigid rule of silence. Later in the nineteenth century the striped suit and lock step also were identified with the Auburn system; these features largely disappeared only after World War n. Despite their ostensible contrast, both the Pennsylvania and the Auburn prison systems were based on a conception of crime as learned in communication among criminals, rather than as a purely individual calculation of alternative utilities. Both prison systems also claimed that they trained offenders in legitimate modes of thought and behavior, instead of merely deterring them.

Emphasis on training increased in the latter part of the nineteenth century with the “reformatory movement,” which is usually traced to the Elmira Reformatory in New York. This special institution for young felons developed distinctive features in the 1870s under the leadership of Zebulon R. Brockway. It borrowed from Alexander Maconochie’s Norfolk prison colony in Australia the “mark system” of awarding inmates numerical credits for each period of good behavior, with loss of these “marks” for misconduct. A specified total number of marks was required for each small reduction of restrictions or increment of comfort in the institution, as well as for release. Elmira added to this an emphasis on education and vocational training. Most major prison systems established reformatories during the subsequent half century. However, they generally replaced the mark system by less mechanically assigned hierarchies of rank and small privilege for inmates, known as “honor” systems in the United States, and elsewhere as “graded” or “step” systems.

Classification and individual treatment

Concomitant with the reformatory movement were the separate developments of probation and parole[seePenology, article onProbation and Parole]. The simultaneous emphasis on institutional programs for reform and on conditional modes of release to test how well reform was achieved reflected the development of the biological and social sciences during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries [seeCriminology]. These fostered a conception of crime not as something to be morally condemned but as a phenomenon having natural causes and, hence, controllable if these causes are identified and altered. However, a great diversity of causes seemed to be involved. Early criminological researchers, notably Cesare Lombroso, ascribed crime to biological inheritance; psychologists first emphasized imbecility, and later the emotional disturbances of early childhood, as causes of crime; sociologists called attention to deviant subcultures and to the influence of social support in delinquent and criminal activity. The most prevalent explanation for crime, therefore, became “multiple causation” [seeCrime, article onCauses of Crime]. This justified the major prison management emphasis in the second quarter of the twentieth century, “classification” and “individual treatment” of inmates.

The classification process in correctional institutions begins with medical and psychological examination of the newly received prisoner, plus a caseworker’s preparation of the inmate’s life history. These reports are discussed by the institution’s classification committee, which usually consists of the head of its custodial staff, plus the director of its school, its physician, chaplains, and caseworkers. They first assess risk of escape, of violence, or of other misconduct by the inmate. Then, within the limits posed by these custodial concerns, they recommend a program of training and treatment by which the institution may help to correct the inmate’s deficiencies. As an incentive to his compliance with this treatment program, the inmate is advised that such a self-improvement effort will enhance his prospects for parole.

Two major problems have been widely recognized in these reformation efforts. The first is the fact that society has seldom been willing to invest in its treatment programs funds sufficient to correct serious educational, vocational training, psychological, and other deficiencies of most offenders. The second is the demonstration by research that, for many offenders, such treatment does not prevent a return to crime, especially when their social acceptance and their conception of themselves as successful has been and continues to be much more immediate and frequent in criminal than in noncriminal pursuits. Accordingly, the second half of the twentieth century has seen the penal objectives of deterrence and treatment, inherited from prior periods, augmented by concern with changing the social relationships of offenders.

Social reintegration

The distinctive feature of prison management in the second half of the twentieth century has been the extent to which the social boundaries within the institutions have become permeable while the isolation of these institutions from the outside world has been reduced. This appears to have been stimulated, in part, by a series of sociological analyses of prisons as communities, as well as by increasingly rigorous research on the consequences of alternative correctional programs.

Traditionally, prisons have had castelike relationships between staff and inmates. This is especially pronounced in prisons where custody and control are the primary managerial concerns. Devices to maintain the authority of staff include quasi-military movement of inmates in mass formations and the maintenance of social distance between staff and inmates by requiring that communication between the two be only formal. Clemmer’s pioneer sociological study of the prison as a community (1940) described the tendency of inmates to become “prisonized” by learning a new language and acquiring a way of life appropriate to the regulation of their lives by staff. Sykes (1958), and the various authors who contributed to Cressey’s collection of sociological essays on the prison (1961), described the special roles inmates develop to cope with each other, as well as to corrupt the authority of staff. Most prevalent, especially in highly repressive prisons, is the “right guy” role, which emphasizes loyalty to other inmates in opposing staff efforts to learn about illicit activities in the institution, and hostility to the inmate “stool pigeon” or “rat,” who purveys such information to staff. Most influential, however, are those inmates who attain the “politician’’ role by acquiring some measure of trust from both inmates and staff. This permits them to gain from the staff and to dispense to inmates some extra “privileges,” comforts, and “inside” information and, reciprocally, to enforce inmate cooperation and order in the performance of essential prison maintenance and production work. Crosscutting these categories, especially in womens’ prisons, according to Ward and Kassebaum (1965) and Giallombardo (1966), are social types based on role differentials in homosexual relationships.

In the treatment-oriented penology of the 1930s, psychotherapy was recommended for most offenders, but the psychiatric and clinical psychological staff available in correctional institutions never sufficed to provide therapy for more than a minute proportion of the inmates. After World War n, group therapy was seen as a solution to this need, not only because one clinician could deal with several subjects simultaneously in group sessions but also because a change in the social relationships among inmates was now seen as essential to their reformation. Increasingly, emphasis then shifted to changing the “social climate” of the institutions by co-opting both nonclinical staff and inmate leaders into the therapeutic process [compare Mentaldisorders, treatment of, articlethetherapeuticcommunity].

In the post-World War n years, concern for minimizing social distance between staff and inmates developed, and gained increasing concessions from the custodially oriented components of correctional management. Techniques for social distance reduction described by Glaser (1964) included assignment of line correctional staff to lead inmate groups meeting regularly for counseling; replacement of traditional institution classification committees by classification “teams” of lower-level staff; appointment of inmates to advisory committees on institution operations; and changing from disciplinary practices of solitary confinement for definite periods to periods of confinement with intensive staff counseling, the confinement terminating only when there is some gain in staff-inmate consensus. Street, Vinter, and Perrow (see Street et al. 1966), comparing inmate leadership attitudes in youth correction institutions of diverse social climates, found inmate support for staff objectives highest when social distance was minimized. Nevertheless, controlled experiments involving random assignment of inmates to heavily counseled and to noncounseled penal units failed to demonstrate marked or consistent recidivism reduction by these programs; they appeared to promote adjustment to institutional life more than preparation for the postrelease world.

Reduction of inmate isolation

Penal practice in the 1960s is distinguished by a rapid proliferation of programs to reduce the isolation of prison populations from the outside world. This was achieved, first, by inviting outsiders into the institutions, both on a voluntary and on a paid basis, as part-time instructors, as participants in inmate discussion or hobby clubs, and simply as personal visitors to inmates out of contact with outsiders. Mutual aid organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, have been especially active in these functions, and they establish social relationships with inmates which continue in the free community. Also, several prison systems markedly reduced their restriction and censoring of inmate correspondence with outside parties. Conjugal visits, allowing a married prisoner to have sexual relations with his spouse, have long been permitted in Latin America, Scandinavia, eastern Europe, and some countries of Asia, but only in the state of Mississippi within the United States.

The second mode of reducing the isolation of prisoners has been to permit their temporary release before final departure from the institution. These releases include furloughs for a few days or a week when their parole or discharge dates are near, to permit them to make home and job arrangements for the future, and simply to make their adjustments to complete release less drastic. More dramatic has been the rapid spread in America and Europe of so-called “work release,” whereby inmates of a prison are permitted to depart daily, to hold jobs in adjacent communities.

Work release, as a means for achieving the social reintegration of offenders into the community, has been limited by the fact that prisons usually are in locations remote from the major metropolitan areas from which most of their inmates come and to which they return. Therefore, new types of penal institutions developed in the 1960s, small residences in large cities to which inmates are transferred for the last few months of their prison terms. The inmates in these graduated release centers depart daily to seek employment or to work on jobs in the community, and as their release date approaches, they may leave the centers in their leisure hours more often, for recreation and to visit their prospective postrelease homes. Indeed, they often may move out of the center in their last few weeks, although they return several times per week to discuss their outside experiences.

The counseling of inmates which occurs in conjunction with these releases is much more relevant to their real problems of community adjustment than counseling generally can be under traditional forms of imprisonment. Under the new programs, discussion deals with immediate circumstances as they are encountered, while counseling during longterm confinement necessarily deals primarily with selective recollections of the past, problems of institutional life, and speculations regarding a hypothetical future. Furthermore, staff assessment of the risk involved in recommending a prisoner’s complete and permanent release is presumably much more competent when the considerations on which the assessments are based include impressions gained following the prisoner’s temporary release, rather than being restricted to observations in prison.

Concern with the integration of offenders into legitimate roles in the free community has promoted more reluctance to remove them from the cornunity in the first place. Accordingly, there has been greater use of fines and of weekend or evening confinement only, presumably as deterrent sentences for prisoners with stable employment and family relationships, both of which might be jeopardized by confinement. Indeed, the increased flexibility of release from penal confinement has meant that traditional differences between imprisonment and alternative correctional practices have diminished. It is noteworthy that in the 1960s there is a general decline in the number of people in prison in most countries for which statistics are available, despite an increase in total population and in prosecutions for major crimes. A major factor in this diminution has been the increase in the principal alternative to penal confinement—release on probation or parole.

Daniel Glaser

[Directly related are the entriesCrime; Criminal Law; Criminology; Punishment; Social Control. Other relevant material may be found inDelinquency; Deviant Behavior; Organizations, article onOrganizational Goals; Utilitarianism; and in the biographies ofBeccaria; Bentham; Lombroso; Rush; Voltaire.]


American Journal of Correction. → Published since 1939. Formerly published as Prison World. Official publication of the American Correctional Association (formerly the American Prisons Association).

Beccaria, Cesare Bonesana (1764) 1953 An Essay on Crimes and Punishments. Stanford, Calif.: Academic Reprints. → First published in Italian as Dei delitti e delle pene. A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Bobbs-Merrill.

California Youth Authority Quarterly. → Published since 1948.

Clemmer, Donald (1940) 1958 The Prison Community. New York: Holt. → The pioneer sociological study of a prison.

Conference Group on Correctional Organization 1960 Theoretical Studies in Social Organization of the Prison, by Richard Cloward et al. Social Science Research Council, Pamphlet 15. New York: The Council. → Six essays by leading sociologists and a political scientist on the social structure of prisons and the relationship of prisons to society.

Cressey, Donald R. (editor) 1961 The Prison: Studies in Institutional Organization and Change. With contributions by Johan Galtung and others. New York: Holt. → Sociological essays on prisons in the United States.

Freeman, Linton C ; and Winch, R. F. 1957 Societal Complexity: An Empirical Test of a Typology of Societies. American Journal of Sociology 62:461-466; 63:78-79. → Objective evidence on the place of penal agencies on a scale of societal differentiation.

Giallombardo, Rose 1966 Society of Women: A Study of a Women’s Prison. New York: Wiley. → One of the most systematic sociological analyses of a woman’s prison.

Glaser, Daniel 1964 The Effectiveness of a Prison and Parole System. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill. → A major study of U.S. federal prisons and parole operations, with some comparative data from state systems.

Howard Journal. → Published in Great Britain since 1921 by the Howard League, a pioneer penal reform organization.

International Review of Criminal Policy. → Published annually since 1952 by the United Nations in English, French, and Spanish editions. Each issue generally deals with a specific problem in penology, with contributors from many countries. There are also detailed reports on international or regional meetings dealing with aspects of penology.

Mccorkle, Lloyd W.; Elias, Albert; and Bixby, F. Lovell 1958 The Highfields Story: An Experimental Treatment Project for Youthful Offenders. New York: Holt. → An analysis of the Highfields innovation by its founders.

Mathiesen, Thomas 1965 The Defences of the Weak: A Sociological Study of a Norwegian Correctional Institution. London: Tavistock.

Prison Journal. → Published since 1921. Official journal of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, an organization founded in 1787 and historically important for fostering the “Pennsylvania system” of prison management.

Rubin, SOL 1963 The Law of Criminal Correction. St. Paul, Minn.: West. → A pioneer compilation and commentary on law regarding imprisonment, probation, fines, and parole.

Rusche, George; and Kirchheimer, Otto 1939 Punishment and Social Structure. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A scholarly history stressing economic explanations for changes in penal policy.

Street, David et al. 1966 Organization for Treatment. New York: Free Press. → An analysis of inmate and staff attitudes as functions of their social organization and of staff leadership goals, based on data from six youth correctional institutions.

Sykes, Gresham M. 1958 The Society of Captives: A Study of a Maximum Security Prison. Princeton Univ. Press. → A brilliantly written sociological analysis of a maximum-security prison, from the perspectives of the types of inmates most readily available as key informants.

Ward, David A.; and Kassebaum, Gene G. 1965 Women’s Prison: Sex and Social Structure. Chicago: Aldine. → A penetrating study focusing especially on relationships between homosexual roles and social structure.

Weeks, H. Ashley (editor) 1959 Youthful Offenders at Highfields: An Evaluation of the Effects of the Shortterm Treatment of Delinquent Boys. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press. → The report of an evaluative study of Highfields conducted by a sociologist, with commentaries by two other sociologists, a psychiatrist, and a leader in correctional reform organizations.


Probation and parole are procedures for release of convicted criminals or adjudicated delinquents on a conditional basis in order to assist them in pursuing a noncriminal life, with the proviso that they may be committed or returned to a correctional institution if their behavior after release fails to meet standards of the releasing authority. If granted by a court as an alternative to incarceration, this release is generally called “probation.” If granted by an administrative agency to someone who already has served part of a term of confinement, this release is usually called “parole” in the United States and “license” in Britain. The cognate or other equivalent of the term “conditional liberation” is used in non-English-speaking countries. However, in much popular speech and even in some legal statutes within the United States “probation” and “parole” are used interchangeably.

Both probation and parole represent a shift from the classic penal goal of deterrence to the modern goal of encouraging the offender to find some legitimate alternative to crime, while continuing to restrain him for the protection of society. Probation and parole also involve postponing a final decision in dealing with the criminal; the offender’s ultimate treatment is left uncertain until he is observed further.

History of probation

Probation evolved from the common-law procedure of suspended sentence, by which a judge first imposes a specific penalty, then orders that the penalty not be enforced if the offender behaves as directed. Probation differs from suspended sentence in that the court appoints someone to assist the convicted person in achieving a law-abiding life, as well as to check whether the conditions of release are obeyed.

The first probation officer is often said to have been John Augustus, a Boston cobbler, who in 1841 volunteered to assist offenders if the court would release them to his care. By his death in 1859 he and his friends were credited with providing this service for over 2,000 persons with remarkably few failures. These voluntary services first became official government functions in Massachusetts, where an 1869 law required the Board of Charities “visiting agent” to arrange family placement for children charged with offenses and where an 1878 law authorized court employment of a probation officer to serve any offender considered reformable without punishment.

In Britain and elsewhere it is claimed that some use of voluntary supervisors in suspended-sentence cases occurred well before the work of John Augustus. However, the first British law on conditional suspension of sentence was enacted in 1879, and the modern form of British probation, providing state assistance and supervision, was not established by law until 1907.

Laws for the conditional suspension of sentences were enacted in Norway in 1887, Belgium in 1888, and France in 1891. While this concept spread rapidly, government employment of probation officers was less readily accepted. The latter practice is said to have first occurred on the Continent at Neuchatel, Switzerland, in 1891, but it did not prevail in most of western Europe until after World War i, and it spread even more slowly in eastern Europe.

Probation was introduced into most of the British colonies in Asia and Africa early in the twentieth century and was then adopted in some of the adjacent countries. Its entrance into Latin America came with the establishment of juvenile courts there in the 1920s and 1930s; but it was not accepted in most Latin American courts for adults until much later.

Probation in juvenile courts. Almost everywhere, the most extensive use of probation has occurred in juvenile courts. Here children are also placed on “unofficial probation,” by continuing their hearings for perhaps six months or a year, then dismissing their cases if they and their parents have cooperated with the probation officer and behaved as the court directed during this period. In this way the child never is officially adjudicated delinquent. Unofficial probation is the most frequent disposition of cases in many juvenile courts, while in others it is either unknown or infrequent. This confounds efforts to compare delinquency rates from one jurisdiction to the next. An analogous practice in some adult courts is known as “deferred prosecution.”

These procedures for avoiding official decrees have been criticized because the court may thereby impose stringent behavior restrictions on an accused person without fully investigating the validity of complaints against him. Fear that noncooperation would result in commitment to a correctional institution inspires compliance with unofficial probation suggestions as though they were formal court orders. However, such practices have been defended as imposing less stigma on the accused than would result from full legal proceedings and as no more likely to be abused than formal procedure.

History of parole

The term “parole” can be traced to parole d’honneur (word of honor), a type of oath known in medieval days whereby military prisoners or offenders of noble birth were released on their promise not to escape or not to resume conflict. However, the practice to which the term generally is restricted today evolved from programs to motivate desired behavior in prisoners.

In 1840, Alexander Maconochie, head of a British penal colony in Australia, instituted a system whereby convicts earned “marks” for industry and obedience and lost them through misconduct. A specified number of marks had to be accumulated before a man could enter each of four “stages” of decreased restriction in confinement. In the last stage the offenders received a “ticket of leave,” which granted them freedom for the balance of their sentence provided they had no further conflict with the law.

Sir Walter Crofton, in 1846, introduced a ticketof-leave system in Ireland under which the released prisoners had to report regularly to the nearest police station. This system was extended to England by the Penal Law of 1857, where it was called “conditional release on licence.” The term “parole” was applied to the Irish system by its proponents in the United States, who finally had it instituted in 1877 at the state reformatory in Elmira, New York. It had been adopted in 22 states by 1900 and in 44 by 1922. In almost all parole systems in the United States, government-employed parole officers supervise the releasees.

In Britain, assistance for released prisoners, whether on “licence” or fully discharged, is known as “after-care” and is performed primarily by prisoners’ aid societies. These originally were purely voluntary organizations, but they have received government financial assistance since 1862. The British local organizations federated in 1936 as the National Association of Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Societies. Officers of this organization, by law, are also officers of the Central After-Care Association, a government agency created by the Criminal Justice Act of 1948 and gradually enlarged until, after 1961, it handled most compulsory after-care cases. Rather than engage a large staff, this association frequently appoints local probation officers as its “associates” to supervise licensees in their area. Several plans for decentralization of British aftercare have been widely debated.

Preprobation and parole investigations

Probation officers generally are employees of the courts. Their work differs from that of parole officers in that, in addition to supervising released offenders, they serve as advisers to judges. They do so through their presentence investigations (called “prehearing investigations” in juvenile courts). In these inquiries the probation officer usually interviews the accused and his family and any other persons or agencies having relevant information, such as employers or the armed forces. Psychological and psychiatric examinations may also be arranged. The report on such investigations summarizes the life history of the subject, analyzes his personality and his offense, describes his current situation, and assesses his probable future behavior under alternative possible court dispositions.

Investigationspro and con. In some jurisdictions a presentence or prehearing investigation is required by law for every case; elsewhere it is often required by court policy. In dealings with convicted adults presentence reports are useful to a judge even in cases for which probation is not under consideration, for they may guide decision as to the most appropriate type of prison sentence.

There has been some objection to mandatory prehearing investigations in juvenile courts on the grounds that inquiry by a court employee publicizes the status of the accused in a way that impairs his acceptance in his neighborhood and at his workplace or school. Such damage is of particular concern in cases where the court concludes that the subject has been unjustly accused. Mandatory investigations also are alleged to damage some juveniles by delaying court action for days or weeks even when information adequate for a sound disposition of the case should be provided by persons available at the initial hearings.

There has been continual controversy regarding the right of legal counsel to examine the presentence or prehearing report, to question the probation officer on it, and to present witnesses or evidence in opposition to the findings of this report. In support of such rights, it is charged that the probation officer frequently presents hearsay evidence as fact and obtains testimony from prejudiced sources without systematically determining what others might say in rebuttal. Denial of these rights is defended on the ground that exposure of sources would limit the range of relevant character information submitted to the court and that properly trained probation officers are competent to make a thorough and impartial investigation. A compromise on this issue frequently prevails, with the judge making the factual conclusions of the probation officer’s report available to counsel, and hearing testimony in rebuttal of these conclusions, without revealing the officer’s sources of information.

Purpose of investigations. Parole officers investigate an inmate’s proposed after-prison home and employment to ascertain whether they are actually available or may involve situations conducive to crime. Usually this inquiry is undertaken only after the inmate’s parole is approved; the parole board stipulates that parole will be deferred if postrelease arrangements are not satisfactory. Officers may also endeavor to arrange housing and employment for a prospective parolee.

Men from prison, however, are so often deficient in work skills and experience, and there is such prejudice against hiring them, that many promises of postrelease employment actually are only favors granted the prisoner’s family in order to hasten his release. Such jobs usually prove only temporary or nonexistent. Consequently, many parole authorities advocate less insistence on prelease job arrangements and more assistance to newly released prisoners while they seek their own jobs.

Factors in release decisions

Probation frequently is prohibited by law to persons found guilty of so-called heinous crimes, such as murder, rape, or narcotics offenses. Advocates of rehabilitation as the primary objective in dealing with criminals object to such statutory restrictions on the grounds that they hamper the state’s adjustment of its actions to meet individual differences among offenders.

Both concern with rehabilitation and interest in protecting the public require that probation and parole decisions be based on prediction of the offender’s future conduct. This prediction includes not just assessment of the risk of further crime if the offender is released immediately but also judgment whether these prospects will be better or worse after a period of confinement. Since the potentialities of humans and the situations they may encounter can never be completely known in advance, considerable error is inevitable in all judicial and correctional prediction. Furthermore, the practice of making each decision on a purely individual basis and the lack of systematic analysis of the accuracy of past predictions impair the ability of judges or parole boards to learn from experience.

Prediction research and release procedure. Since its inception in the 1920s, probation and parole prediction research has repeatedly been heralded as a basis for scientific release decisions. Such figures as Ernest W. Burgess and Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck in the United States, Franz Exner and his students in Germany, Leslie T. Wilkins in Britain, and many others developed statistical tables relating prerelease information on offenders to their postrelease behavior. There have been numerous demonstrations that these tables generally lead to more accurate predictions than is achieved through prognosis from case impressions by correctional officials, psychiatrists, psychologists, or sociologists. Nevertheless, for about thirty years the Illinois parole system was the only agency systematically making statistical prediction data available to makers of release decisions. Resistance to this practice reflected exaggerated claims for the tables by some of their proponents, which aroused an opposition fearing that use of the tables would dehumanize casework or would make relative violation risk the sole factor in release decisions. This situation changed in the early 1960s when Britain and several jurisdictions in the United States, notably California and Wisconsin, sponsored research leading to improved tables. They treated the tables as an adjunct to other data facilitating release decisions, rather than as the sole basis for decision [see Prediction].

Supervision of probationers and parolees

The conditions under which probation or parole is granted generally are expressed as a set of rules. These usually specify a county or other area in which the releasee must remain, unless granted special permission to go elsewhere. They require regular employment or school attendance, if possible, and avoidance of known criminals. There are rules against carrying weapons and other more or less specific injunctions. Usually the probationer or parolee is required to report to his supervision officer at regular intervals and to cooperate with the officer in other ways.

Restitution and compensation. Frequently in probation, but rarely in parole, the offender is required to make restitution to the victim of his offense. Occasionally the judge may require some other compensatory action, such as unpaid labor at public agencies. Such acts have been interpreted psychologically as essential to rehabilitation, for good works give the offender a conception of himself as a good person and facilitate his identification with anticriminal persons. However, for optimum rehabilitation from such experience the offender must be inspired to undertake these acts on his own initiative, rather than just perform them involuntarily.

Role dilemma of the probation officer. Probation and parole officers often experience a conflict in their work between the requirements of assistance to a releasee and the requirements of rule enforcement. There is increasing emphasis on such positive aid as counseling, obtaining employment, and mediating family conflicts for the releasee. Such assistance may require a relationship of mutual respect and trust, while effective rule enforcement requires surveillance, inquiry, and other expressions of distrust. Solutions for this role dilemma vary from leaving surveillance exclusively to the police to counseling primarily by threat, but most practice is intermediate between these extremes.

Rehabilitation and the public interest. The granting of probation or parole implies that the state has no interest in punishing the offender but is concerned only with assuring his achievement of a legitimate way of life. Most jurisdictions, however, prescribe a minimum term of confinement before parole may begin, and some judges frequently require that a jail term precede probation. Argument for this practice asserts that prior experience of the punishment to be imposed if release conditions are violated deters the releasee from violation. An opposing argument is that confinement, particularly in the idleness characteristic of jails, is a criminalizing experience. It is also contended that a major advantage of probation for many cases is noninterruption of the subject’s employment and family relationships. Of course, the latter arguments are not relevant for the large proportion of offenders who are unemployed at the time of their trial, nor for the many who lack satisfactory family relationships.

Revocation of parole or probation generally occurs if the releasee is convicted of a felony, or if he commits serious or repeated rule violations. Usually a court hearing is required to revoke probation, and a parole board hearing to declare a parolee a violator. However, these hearings seldom can be arranged before some weeks after the releasee has been in custody.

Convergence of penal practices

In concluding the article on the field of penology, I noted that under certain new types of prison management, which are rapidly spreading, many prisons are allowing inmates who are soon due to be paroled to leave the institution during the day for private employment and to return to prison at night, as well as to depart for several days at a time on leaves or furloughs. Thus, the contrast between conditions of imprisonment and those of parole are diminishing, so that the adjustments required in making a transition from one to the other are encountered less abruptly.

A contrasting but convergent development consists in the establishment of counseling centers or residential hostels to which offenders placed on probation or parole must report when not at work or at school. The residential hostel, or “halfway house,” has most often been operated by private charitable groups, usually church-affiliated, but sometimes they are also established by government agencies. Halfway houses provide temporary shelter and counseling services for parolees or probationers for whom a satisfactory family home is not available. Those operated by private groups often also aid discharged prisoners.

A series of highly publicized experiments in special counseling programs at such shelters during the 1950s and 1960s set patterns that subsequently were widely copied. Highfields, an estate given to the state of New Jersey by the flier Charles Lindbergh, was made a residence to which delinquents could be sent for up to four months, as a condition of probation. There they participated in “guided group interaction” for several hours daily, a type of discussion oriented toward their helping each other reach an understanding of why they behaved in a delinquent manner and of how they might change this behavior. H. Ashley Weeks, Lloyd W. McCorkle, and numerous other social scientists have published analyses of this innovation (see bibliography for the article on the field of penology). Other centers followed. Some—notably those at Provo, Utah, and Essexfields, New Jersey—served only as counseling establishments, rather than as residences, so that probationers assigned to them returned daily to their homes. Under this arrangement the daily conduct of the participants in community life could become the subject of the group’s discussion. The discussion at these centers often includes the topic of whether a particular participant’s behavior warrants either revocation of his probation or alteration of its conditions, and the group’s advice frequently is followed by authorities.

Paralleling these developments have been numerous experiments with intensive parole services in California. Random assignment of parolees to smaller than usual parole caseloads—even as few as 30 cases per officer—was found associated with little or no reduction in parole-violation rates. However, a more dramatic series of experiments involved establishment of nonresidential “community treatment centers” for daily counseling and tutoring of randomly selected delinquents paroled within a month after their commitment to institutions. These parolees were assigned to caseloads of only eight to twelve per officer, with different styles of supervision specified according to a classification of the offenders on a number of psychological and sociological variables. Thus, those called “enculturated” and “manipulative” received “firm but fair” supervision, while those called “immature” received highly “supportive” counseling. For most types of offenders, these programs have been dramatically more successful, as well as less costly, than those of institutionalization, and they have spread rapidly. An additional feature of many community counseling centers, especially those for adults, has been the employment of clearly rehabilitated ex-offenders as counselors. These persons have shown unusual communication skills and influence as role models for offenders whose status they once shared.

The major thrusts in penal development have been the expansion of all services in the community and the recommendation of distinctive correctional strategies for particular types of offender. In penology, as in medicine at a much earlier period, the use of controlled experiments and the objective analysis of experience is leading to more specific prescriptions for remedial action. The function of the state in coping with delinquents and criminals has become less a matter of physical containment and more a matter of continuous corrective effort within the settings where these offenders must achieve a legitimate way of life if they are no longer to be a problem for the state.

Daniel Glaser

[See alsoCriminology; Delinquency, article onThe Study of Delinquency.]


Canadian Journal of Corrections. → Published since 1958 by the Canadian Welfare Council. Includes articles on a wide variety of criminological topics, including reports on probation and parole in Canada and elsewhere.

Chute, Charles L.; and Bell, Marjorie 1956 Crime, Courts and Probation. New York: Macmillan. → The first half of this book is an authoritative history of the probation movement in the United States, in which the authors played leading parts. The remainder primarily states norms for various probation tasks.

Crime and Delinquency. → Formerly published as the National Probation and Parole Association Journal. Published since 1955 by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Includes, in addition to articles and book reviews on aspects of probation and parole, annual reviews of “Developments in Correctional Law” and a synopsis of “Annual Reports” of probation and parole agencies.

Federal Probation. → Published since 1937. Includes contributions to knowledge and opinion related to probation and parole by persons from many disciplines, digests of relevant articles in other periodicals, and a survey of news in corrections.

Glaser, Daniel 1964 The Effectiveness of a Prison and Parole System. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.

Great Britain, Home Office 1963 The Organisation of After-care. London: H.M. Stationery Office. → A critical account of British field services for parolees and probationers, including divergent views on their optimum administrative organization.

GrÜnhut, Max 1948 Penal Reform: A Comparative Study. Oxford Univ. Press. → This historical survey is notable for its detailed and multilingual legal references.

Journal of Correctional Work. → Published since 1954 by the Government Training School, Lucknow, India.

Mannheim, Hermann; and Wilkins, Leslie T. 1955 Prediction Methods in Relation to Borstal Training. London: H.M. Stationery Office. → This methodologically sophisticated parole prediction study includes an excellent summary of prior research.

Probation. → Published since 1930 by the National Association of Probation Officers, Croydon, England. Contains much discussion of legislative proposals and issues affecting the correctional professions.

Rubin, Sol 1963 The Law of Criminal Correction. St. Paul, Minn.: West. → This pioneer compilation of an emerging field of law includes commentaries on major issues.

Tappan, Paul W. 1960 Crime, Justice, and Correction. New York: McGraw-Hill. → A criminology text by a lawyer-sociologist, former Chairman of the U.S. Board of Parole, with chapters on probation and parole distinctive for their critical view of much current practice.

United Nations, Department of Social Affairs 1951 Probation and Related Measures. New York: United Nations. → An international survey, extensively documented, including history, statistics, and summaries of legislation from many countries.

United Nations, Department of Social Affairs 1954 Parole and After-care. New York: United Nations. → Brief report of an international survey.


views updated May 09 2018


Penology, an applied field of sociology, is the theoretical study of prison policy, prison management, and the resulting prison culture. The sociological contributions to prison issues are applicable worldwide and offer practical solutions to problems relating to overcrowding, prison violence, and prison culture. While there is a rich European and American history of prison (e.g., Howard 1777; Beccaria 1819; Bentham 1843; Foucault 1977; Hirsh 1992), the focus here is on American prisons from the 1940s to the commencement of the twenty-first century. The following discussion begins with major sociological analyses of prison and concludes with changes in American prison policy over the past fifty years.

With a few exceptions (e.g., Goffman 1966), prison sociology has traditionally followed some variety of structural analysis. This theoretical perspective is concerned with a societal member's values, attitudes, roles, activities, and relationships that are assumed to be significantly influenced by the organization and structure of the member's environment. There are two broad types of this perspective that have been utilized in prison analysis; both focus on the structural components of prison and the members of that system. The first type, structural functionalism, focuses on how these components affect order in prison. The second type, conflict theory, focuses on how the structural components of prison and the larger society create conflict in prison.


Structural Functionalism. Clemmer's The Prison Community (1940) is an early form of structural functional analysis. Based on interviews with staff and inmates, Clemmer's exploratory study is an ethnography of prison. This pioneering work set forth the argument that administrative policy (i.e., authoritative control over inmates, or the lack of control over inmates) influenced inmate subculture. This subculture included behavior, rules, and attitudes. Inmates could be unruly, and could prey on each other and staff if control was lacking.

This behavior would disrupt prison order and inmate adjustment to prison life. The prison administration would attempt to reestablish order by increasing control efforts, and inmates would counter these efforts through a process of "prisonization." "Prisonization" was a socialization process through which seasoned inmates inducted new inmates into the inmate subculture. The content of this socialization for new inmates included the learning of negative attitudes toward work, government, family, and inmate groups other than their own. Inmate behavior would become resistant, obstructive, and subterfugal. Clemmer saw this "prisonization" and the resultant inmate subculture as unfortunate and unintended consequences of the administrative controls. He believed the negativism and hostility perpetuated by the inmate subculture was disruptive to the inmates' reform and was "a stronger force for evil than the programs are for good" (Clemmer 1940, p. xiii).

Sykes's The Society of Captives (1958) was a qualitative, exploratory, and ex post facto study that also applied a structural functional analysis. Attempting to determine the cause of a series of prison riots, Sykes studied institutional records and interviewed correctional officers, civilian work supervisors, and inmates. Sykes found the cause of the prison disequilibrium to be rooted in the prison structure and values that followed from a policy of control. He argued that management's major task was to control the inmates, but the prison's system of power was flawed with structural weaknesses that left administrators serious difficulties in imposing their control regime on the inmates. These structural weaknesses involved the inmates' lack of a sense of duty to obey correctional officers, and the correctional officers' lack of legitimate rewards and punishments, with which they could encourage inmate submission.

Power based on authority, Sykes claimed, has two essential elements: the legitimacy of control efforts and a sense of duty to obey by those who are controlled (1958, pp. 46–47). He found the latter to be present down to the correctional officer level at the New Jersey State Prison, which operated under a traditional organizational hierarchy. The sense of duty to obey disappeared, however, when the control efforts were applied to inmates. The correctional officers had to make deals (i.e., giving correctional officer duties to trusted inmates in exchange for their help in preventing trouble) and compromises (i.e., overlooking rule violations) with inmates to achieve compliance and order. Sykes argues that correctional officer corruption (i.e., reciprocity) could not be eliminated by replacing the correctional officers. New correctional officers were aggressively pressured by the inmates (i.e., threats of riots, blackmailing staff) until they, too, compromised the rules and regulations.

The problem was a weakness of the prison system. "The effort of the custodians to 'tighten up' the prison undermines the cohesive forces at work in the inmate population and it is these forces which play a critical part in keeping the society of the prison on an even keel" (Sykes 1958, p. 124). The cohesive forces are the less violent and more stable inmates who are given illicit privileges in exchange for their help in encouraging inmate cohesiveness and prison equilibrium. If the prison officials strip these inmates of their power (tighten up), the more violent and less stable inmates rise to power.

In addition to providing the structural functional analysis described above, Sykes argued that the result of imprisonment on inmate values, attitudes, and behaviors is a product of the patterns of interaction the inmate experiences on a daily basis (1958, p. 134). For example, inmates feel helpless and frustrated when staff refuse to explain bureaucratic decisions. Sykes described the hardships of imprisonment (i.e., rejection, degradation, deprivation, alienation, and lack of safety) felt by the inmates, and he acknowledged that "Somehow the imprisoned criminal must find a device for rejecting his rejectors, if he is to endure psychologically" (1958, p. 67). Sykes also depicted the correctional officers' work environment as dangerous and tense. He reported that the correctional officers were heavily outnumbered in a potentially violent setting, and were often frustrated by the administrative pressure to maintain order while they lacked unconditional compliance from the inmates.

The Prison: Studies in Institutional Organization and Change by Cressey (1961) and Theoretical Studies in Social Organization of the Prison, by Cloward and colleagues (1960) were also structural functional analyses. Both studies depicted prisons as authoritarian systems governed by bureaucratic hierarchy and empowered to control inmates. They described how the control policy in prison affects the power structure which, in turn, influences communication and values (i.e., staff pursuit of power over inmates, inmate restraint from talking to staff). Cressey (1961) found that two different prison policies, one emphasizing custody and the other treatment, had different hierarchies with contradictory purposes. The two hierarchies, with different models of decision making, one authoritative and the other participatory, had to increase their efforts to communicate with each other to facilitate the security desired by the custody branch and the programming desired by the treatment branch. It was also reported in the Cressey study (1961) that inmates and staff can work together effectively when the role expectations of their respective groups are not involved. Effective communication deteriorates when inmates and staff allow their respective group pressures to interfere with their relationships (1961, pp. 229–259).

Webb and Morris's Prison Guards (1978) focused on the organization of prison structure, which Clemmer (1940) had felt contributed to the maintenance of prison order (or disorder) and determined the inmates' prison experience. They focused on the correctional officers' subculture, and concluded that the officers saw maintaining security as their main function. While discipline was expressed as the means for carrying out the policy, poor prison facilities and inexperienced administrators were seen as barriers to prison order and safety.

Webb and Morris (1978) reported that the officers' major complaints about administrators were lack of communication and failure to consult the officers when decisions had to be made. This suggests that those making the decisions were distrustful of the officers' ability to participate in decision making, and preferred to monopolize power at the top. It also means that information that the officers would know best (i.e., security issues relating to certain inmates) was not being considered by those making the decisions. The correctional officers saw their safety compromised. The frustration caused by this poor communication process led to correctional officers being openly critical of the administration, and to their finding ways of undermining the administration's authority (i.e., doing no more than they were told).

Webb and Morris (1978) described how the officers developed their own protective society. The veteran correctional officers pressured the new to become "hardened" and "con-wise," and if, after six months to a year, the officers were not seen as "con-wise," then they were given the derogatory label "pro inmate." This pressure to be estranged and nonsympathetic in their attitudes toward inmates was the correctional officers' way of protecting themselves from "getting conned" or "being burned" by the inmates.

Kauffman's Prison Officers and Their World (1988) was another structural functional analysis of the correctional officer subculture. Correctional officers had been blamed by the central administration for the riots and inmate violence that had plagued the Massachusetts prison system in the 1970s. Based on interviews with sixty correctional officers, Kauffman describes the rite of passage that many new correctional officers went through: how the recruits were assigned the high-inmate-contact positions in cellblocks, abandoned by the administration and veteran officers, and aggressively tested by the inmates. The general result of this treatment was an emotional hardening toward the inmates, and the acceptance of violence by staff as a means of controlling inmates. Kauffman concludes that the power veteran officers had over staff recruits was an unintended consequence of the lack of a clear administrative policy for bringing order to the prison system. She found that the administration was determined to find someone to blame for the rite of passage many recruits went through, rather than adopting a policy "to counter the continuing legacy of chaos and violence" (1988, p. 199).

The influence of prison policy on the structure, process, behavior, and attitudes in the prison (a focus typical of both structural perspectives) is also represented in DiIulio's Governing Prisons (1987). He shows how prison management problems have been addressed in Texas, California, and Michigan through the development and use of different management policies. He refers to the Texas policy as one of "control," where authority is centralized and where the use of administratively controlled inmates to control other inmates ("building tendering") prevailed until the decision in Ruiz v. Estelle (1980) ruled the system illegal. DiIulio claims that California has a "consensus" policy, in which each warden works to get inmate "consensus" on classification systems, there are elaborate in-service training programs for correctional officers, and there are communityrelated educational/vocational programs for inmates. DiIulio (1987) found that Michigan has a third alternative, which emphasizes a bureaucratic system of measuring and dispensing different levels of inmate "responsibility" and accountability. DiIulio found the quality of life for inmates inside the Michigan prisons better than what he had found in other state prisons. Staff had a difficult time accepting the responsibility model, however.

Conflict Theory. The second theoretical strand of prison sociology, conflict theory, saw tight controls on inmates as unjust and called for the sharing of power with them. Wright's The Politics of Punishment (1973) is the first of three works representing this second branch of structural analysis that will be reviewed here. Wright is more critical of prison operations than the structural functionalists. He thought rehabilitation was manipulative in the way that it attempted "to coerce the prisoner to conform to established authority" (1973, p. 325), and then use this conformity as the basic criterion for parole. Wright believed inmates were almost totally helpless to protect themselves against the dehumanization of "liberal" totalitarian rule he found in most prisons.

The prison administration's focus on rehabilitation was an individualistic solution that avoided and disguised the real causes of criminality. Wright claimed that it was the structural flaws in the capitalist system (i.e., unemployment and the lack of opportunities outside the prison), not individual failings, that were the problem. Wright believed that crime could be reduced, and prisons reformed, by moving the American capitalist society toward socialism. Within this context, prisons could be decentralized and not controlled by a "self-perpetuating, unrestrained bureaucracy" (1973, p. 342). The administration of punishment could be placed under public surveillance. The prison under this system would "serve the interests of the people rather than of the elite" (1973, p. 337). Wright suggests that prison management has typically held to the position that prison order can be obtained only with traditional control strategies (i.e., correctional officer power over inmates), and that the effect of these strategies has been oppressive and inhumane prison conditions.

Hawkins's The Prison: Policy and Practice (1976) is another critical analysis of prisons and prison management. Although Hawkins's prison experience was gained in the United Kingdom, his message was relevant to American prison practitioners and researchers. Among his claims was that correctional officers had only been superficially studied by the functional branch of sociologists, who presented them as stereotypes acting out assigned roles (1976, p. 81). Hawkins saw the correctional officers in a situation of role conflict (security versus treatment) that was due to the absence of clear job descriptions and training. The results of this conflict for the correctional officers were negative attitudes toward the administration and obstructive behavior. These results, along with the conflicting goals of imprisonment (punishment versus rehabilitation), were seen by Hawkins as impediments to prison reform. Hawkins also urged that prison evaluations should be more than just "eulogistic and imprecise descriptions of success stories" (1976, p. 178).

In his assessment of the Attica prison in New York, Hawkins also found that the relationship between correctional officers and inmates was a crucial factor in the 1971 riot. The problem was mostly structural. The officers were assigned to large blocks of inmates, rather than to small units where they could have established rapport with the inmates. In the large units the officers worked with different inmates each day, thus reducing the opportunities and motivations for staff and inmates to development mutual respect and understanding. The structural problem went further, however. Hawkins, citing a New York State Special Commission's report on Attica, reported that there were unnecessary priorities in the correctional officer recruitment policies (i.e., age, physical size, and strength were more important than skills in persuasion, leadership, and interpersonal relations).

Irwin's Prisons in Turmoil (1980) also represents this "conflict" branch of sociological theorizing. Irwin, an ex-felon and past leader in the prison reform movement of the 1970s, shows how American penal policy has followed changes in the economic and political conditions in the United States. His thinking ran against the usual functionalist sociology, which explained prison policy and activity largely in terms of internal events. Irwin believed that sociologists (e.g., Clemmer 1940; Sykes 1958) who studied prison cultures were blinded by their focus on prison structure, and therefore failed to recognize the fact that when inmates enter prison, they bring their outside values with them. He also believed that if prisons are to be safe and free from malicious authoritarianism, staff and inmates should have more formal input into policy and grievance decisions.

These sociological analyses of prison were written in different phases of the development of penal policy. It is very difficult to determine whether the literature influenced the policy, or vice versa. Most likely, they shaped each other. The point of the following brief history of the development of American penal policy over the past fifty years is not to make the causal argument, but to help the reader get a sense of the changing ideologies leading to the current management model.


Retribution to Rehabilitation. Prisons in the United States have traditionally been centralized hierarchical organizations with authoritarian and coercive management. Policies and procedures have been formulated at the central administrative offices and passed down in military fashion to prison administrations for implementation. This is assuredly true of the management style that administered the penal philosophies of the 1950s. The decade began with a "Big House" warehousing of inmates that implemented a classical penal philosophy embracing retribution, "care," and the notion that punishment should fit the crime. The decade ended with a changed perspective on crime and punishment, emphasizing that punishment should fit the individual and the inmate should be rehabilitated. By 1958, a noncustodial treatment branch of prison management shared an uneasy coexistence with the custody branch. Three types of treatment programs (psychological, educational, and economic) were centrally administered under the rubric of the rehabilitative ideal (Irwin 1980). The idea was to treat the individual problem that "caused" the individual to commit the crime. By the end of this decade, most prison administrators had implemented this rehabilitative model without any interference from federal and state governments.

Rehabilitation to Reintegration. The early 1960s saw variations of the rehabilitative or treatment model of the late 1950s sharing an uneasy coexistence with an authoritative management style that had traditionally maintained order and control in large prison bureaucracies. Public and prison administrative acceptance of the "rehabilitative ideal" as a penal policy was partly rooted in its advocates' view that the new scientifically based treatment model could provide a remedy for crime.

By the middle 1960s, the call for community involvement in rehabilitation was signaled in a report by the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. Advocating a shift to a policy of reintegration, the report advised that rehabilitation might be best done outside prison, and that community programs should be designed that could change both the inmate and society (U.S. President's Commission 1967, pp. 27–37). It took a few years to catch on, but in the late 1960s a number of community alternatives to prison were developed and heavily underwritten by federal revenues.

Reintegration to Retribution. This reintegration policy continued into the 1970s. Prison administrators were pressed to design reentry programs such as work and educational release, and home furloughs. But public support waned in the mid-1970s, when the "get-tough-with-criminals" and antirehabilitative mood became dominant. The second theoretical strand of prison sociology, conflict structuralism, began around this time. This orientation was influenced by the 1960s societal reaction and critical theories that denounced the 1950s conservative structural functionalism. Riots and litigation forced federal courts to scrutinize the repressive management of correctional facilities and community-based treatment programs to ensure compliance with the Eighth Amendment right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

If prisons were being unfair in their partiality toward manipulative rehabilitation (e.g., Wright 1973; Hawkins 1976: the liberal critique), then retribution ought to replace it as a penal goal. The mid- to late 1970s saw a readoption of the early classical policy—"let the punishment fit the crime"—rather than the rehabilitative or positivist policy of "letting the punishment fit the criminal." A different argument was that rehabilitation rarely worked (e.g., Martinson 1974: the conservative critique). Prison technologies had not successfully rehabilitated inmates despite prison administrators' repeated claims of success. The Martinson survey (1974) of 231 treatment reports in New York concluded that treatment had not worked. The publication of this survey ended any lingering hope for serious rehabilitative programming.

The "new" word in penal policy was "retribution." Though it had been criticized by many social scientists and judges since the early 1900s, in 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court offered retribution as an appropriate reason for capital punishment (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 1972). The neoclassical doctrine generally implies deterrence as a function of punishment. Wilson and Herrstein (1985) are among those who take this position. There are others, however, who argue that retribution is the main function, and that there does not have to be any further utilitarian purpose such as deterrence. The argument these penologists make for retribution is that inmates are incarcerated because they deserve to be, not because they should be treated and not because their punishment should serve as a deterrent. Many penologists credit the retributive model with encouraging prison management to create an environment where inmates can serve their time safely and productively, rather than a harsh environment designed to deter crime. The deprivation of freedom was a harsh enough punishment: Prisons did not have to be punishing beyond that.

As the 1980s commenced, national policy emphasized broad reductions in domestic welfare programs. The criminal justice system warmed to the reacceptance of the classical notion that punishment should fit the crime rather than the criminal. The widespread adoption of determinate sentencing continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as it became increasingly difficult for social theorists to agree on definitive causes of crime. By 1999, most states had determinate sentencing, action supportive of the classical model. This, along with the conservative "get even tougher" response to violent crimes and drug offenses, was why the U.S. prison population more than tripled from 1980 to 1998. With 1,277,866 inmates in state and federal prisons (U.S. Department of Justice 1999), the United States ranks with Russia as having the highest-known incarceration rates of any industrialized nation in the world.

The Penal Debate. One contemporary justification for prison is its crime deterrence function, for which there is considerable public support. Many sociologists take the neoclassical position that an appropriate and updated crime control policy should include an increase in the swiftness and certainty of punishment for street offenders, and that control efforts should focus on both the before-sentencing work of police and prosecution, and the after-sentencing work of corrections. The deterrence advocates' penal policy is based on the theory of criminality that proposes that the frequency of an individual's criminal behavior is a matter of the individual's choice, and a consequence of that behavior's reinforcement or punishment in the past. The individual's choice is based on the expectation of subsequent reward or punishment.

Despite the general public's belief that prison is a deterrent to crime, there is considerable research evidence to the contrary, leaning some sociologists against deterrence. They argue that crimes of passion are less apt to be deterred by prison sentences than crimes committed for monetary gain. The threat of prison is less likely to deter someone of lower socioeconomic status, who has less "good life" and status to lose, than someone of wealth and higher status. Additionally, the courts are so overcrowded that the possibility of swift and certain punishment is diminished.

Entering the twenty-first century, the prevailing model of sentencing is still grounded in the neoclassical deterrence ideology. When it comes to the serving of the sentence, however, the neoclassical retributive, nondeterrence doctrine prevails. This retribution policy requires a correctional system that does not abuse individual treatment, but instead makes rehabilitation programs voluntary, restricts autonomy of movement, specifies the length of sentence in advance (determinate), and implements it in a fair and safe environment. Since about 1973, prison administrators have addressed these fairness and safety issues, specified in the retribution policy, by attempting to minimize the potential violence associated with overcrowding, gang membership, and racism. They have tried to do this by separating the inmate populations into small functional housing units (Levinson and Gerard 1973) that are supervised by a decentralized "unit management" team. Current research (i.e., Farmer 1994) has shown that, if implemented properly, this method of managing inmates can facilitate increased communication, safer conditions, a more satisfying work environment for staff, and more personal programming for inmates.

Sociologists and penologists generally expect the twenty-first-century prison situation to continue its current trends. Incarceration rates will continue to climb as sentences become longer, and as good-time awards and parole options decrease. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and racism in prison will be more closely watched and more rigorously dealt with. Inmates will become more violent as confinement, with less programming, becomes more Spartan and harsher. Gang membership in prison will increase, along with management efforts to combat the membership. Prison "privatization" in areas of prison construction and management, inmate work, and services (i.e., food, health, counseling, education) will become a more widely accepted solution to increasing prison costs and decreasing prison budgets.


Beccaria, Cesare 1819 "Crimes and Punishments," transl. from Italian by M. D. Voltaire. In F. P. Williams, III and Marilyn D. McShane, ed., 1998 Criminology Theory: Selected Classis Readings, 2nd ed. Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing

Bentham, Jeremy 1843 "Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation." In F. P. Williams, III and Marilyn D. McShane, ed., 1998. Crime Theory: SelecetedClassic Readings, 2nd ed. Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing.

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Cressey, Donald (ed.) 1961 The Prison: Studies in Institutional Organization and Change. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

DiIulio, John J. 1987 Governing Prisons: A ComparativeStudy of Correctional Management. New York: Free Press.

Farmer, J Forbes 1994 "Decentralized Management in Prison: A Comparative Case Study." Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 20 (Fall–Winter):117–130.

Foucault, Michel 1977 Discipline and Punish. New York: Pantheon.

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Hawkins, Gordon 1976 The Prison: Policy and Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hirsh, Adam J. 1992 The Rise of the Penitentiary. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Howard, John 1777 The State of Prisons in England andWales. London: E. Eyres

Irwin, John 1980 Prisons in Turmoil. Boston: Little Brown.

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Levinson, Robert B., and Roy E. Gerard 1973 "Functional Units: A Different Correctional Approach." Federal Probation 37(4):8–16.

Martinson, Robert 1974 "What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform" Public Interest 35:22–54.

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J Forbes Farmer


views updated May 17 2018

pe·nol·o·gy / pēˈnäləjē/ • n. the study of the punishment of crime and of prison management.DERIVATIVES: pe·no·log·i·cal / ˌpēnəˈläjikəl/·nol·o·gist / -jist/ n.


views updated Jun 08 2018

penology The study of the management and punishment of criminals. The term is associated with the nineteenth-century movement in penal reform, which redefined prisons as correctional rather than retributive establishments, and at that time described a large number of interested parties (including reformers and lawyers) and a discrete debate. However, in its contemporary usage it normally refers to specific sociological or criminological studies of punishment and deterrence, rather than a separate intellectual or academic discourse.


views updated May 17 2018

penology scientific study of punishment. XIX. f. L. pœna penalty; see PAIN, -OLOGY.


views updated May 23 2018


The science of prison administration and rehabilitation of criminals.

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