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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prison Conditions

  • Author(s): Dolovich, Sharon
  • et al.
The data associated with this publication are available at:

In American prisons, two of the worst pathologies—hypermasculine performance and gang activity—are best understood as strategies of self-help engaged in by people who cannot trust the prison authorities to keep them safe. Given the choice, the overwhelming majority of people in prison would prefer to drop the mask and be themselves. But letting down one’s guard is a luxury enjoyed only by people who feel safe. If we want the people we incarcerate to grow and change, we need to design and operate the prisons so that people can be in company with others without needing to be constantly afraid. In this chapter, I identify several strategies prison administrators can pursue in their facilities right now to reduce the threat of violence in men’s prisons and therefore enhance prisoners’ safety without resorting to solitary confinement. But keeping people safe while enabling them to interact with others, though essential, is not sufficient. It is also necessary to provide access to meaningful pursuits that can give individual prisoners a sense of purpose. Only then will people living behind bars be able to fully step away from the culture of the prison and reorient themselves in a healthy, pro-social, and productive direction.

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