Gender and the Effect of Disciplinary Segregation on Prison Misconduct

Published date01 October 2020
Date01 October 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2020, Vol. 31(8) 1193 –1216
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419884728
Gender and the Effect of
Disciplinary Segregation
on Prison Misconduct
Ryan M. Labrecque1, Daniel P. Mears2,
and Paula Smith3
Scholars and policymakers have advanced different arguments for why restrictive
housing may improve or worsen inmate behavior, yet few studies exist that assess
the impact of this housing on such outcomes. This study draws upon prior theory
and research to hypothesize that inmate adjustment will worsen after placement in
disciplinary segregation among a 3-year admission cohort of inmates from a large
Midwestern state department of corrections (N = 40,979), and further that this effect
will be more harmful to men. The results of our propensity score matching analyses
reveal the use of disciplinary segregation is associated with a greater probability of
misconduct among men and has no appreciable effect on women. These findings
challenge the view that disciplinary segregation is an effective strategy for improving
inmate behavior in prison. This work further highlights the need for continued
research on the utility of restrictive housing.
restrictive housing, disciplinary segregation, institutional misconduct, prison
During the era of mass incarceration, prison officials have been left with few options
for managing inmates in overburdened facilities. As a result, many prison systems
across the United States have expanded their use of restrictive housing, a practice that
1University of Central Florida, Orlando, USA
2Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA
3University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Ryan M. Labrecque, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, 12805 Pegasus Drive,
Orlando, FL 32816-1600, USA.
884728CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419884728Criminal Justice Policy ReviewLabrecque et al.
1194 Criminal Justice Policy Review 31(8)
is often referred to as solitary confinement (Frost & Monteiro, 2016; Labrecque &
Smith, 2013). In general, this specialized housing involves isolation in a single cell for
22 to 24 hr per day with limited opportunities for meaningful interactions with staff or
other inmates (Browne, Cambier, & Agha, 2011). Correctional authorities place
inmates in restrictive housing for one of three primary reasons (Mears, 2016). First, it
is used for managerial purposes, such as isolating an inmate who fails to appropriately
adjust in the general population, or when it is believed one’s presence in the general
population will disrupt the orderly operation of the prison system (i.e., administrative
segregation). Second, it is used to separate vulnerable inmates from the general popu-
lation due to personal safety concerns (i.e., protective custody). Finally, it is used as a
formal punitive sanction in response to an act of unwanted institutional misbehavior
(i.e., disciplinary segregation).
Broadly speaking, the use of restrictive housing has been justified by many policy-
makers and justice officials on the assumption that it is necessary for ensuring safety
and order throughout the prison system (see Mears & Reisig, 2006; Pizarro, Zgoba, &
Haugebrook, 2014). Current estimates indicate that this practice is used commonly in
U.S. prisons; approximately 64,000 inmates are held in this type of setting on any
given day, and more than 320,000 are placed in restrictive housing over the course of
a given year (Beck, 2015). Aside from the ethical and legal issues that the use of
restrictive housing raises (see, for example, American Civil Liberties Union, 2014;
Amnesty International, 2012), a critical question remains: Does this correctional pol-
icy achieve one of its central goals, namely, that of improving the behavior of those
who are placed in it?
To date, there has been limited empirical research that examines the role that restric-
tive housing plays in shaping inmate behavior in prison (see, however, Labrecque &
Smith, 2019a; Lucas & Jones, 2019; Morris, 2016). The scant amount of scholarship
is notable given that restrictive housing represents one of the most severe punishments
that can be imposed on inmates (Butler & Steiner, 2017; Mears, Mancini, Beaver, &
Gertz, 2013). It is notable, too, given the concerns that have been raised about the pos-
sibility that certain groups of inmates, women in particular, might suffer unique harms
in this type of housing (see, for example, American Civil Liberties Union, 2014; Dell,
Fillmore, & Kilty, 2009; Martel, 2001). It is notable, not least, because restrictive
housing constitutes a policy whose benefits have been largely assumed and whose
logic—incapacitate certain violent and disruptive inmates and deter both these and the
general population of inmates—are increasingly being questioned (Frost & Monteiro,
2016; Mears, 2016).
The goal of this work, then, is to assess if the use of restrictive housing for punitive
purposes (i.e., disciplinary segregation) improves or worsens inmate behavior and if
this effect varies among men and women. To this end, drawing on prior research, we
test hypotheses that inmates who experience stays in disciplinary segregation will
engage in more institutional misconduct and that this effect will be more pronounced
for men than it is for women. To test these hypotheses, we use a 4-year admission
cohort of inmates incarcerated in a large Midwestern State Department of Corrections.
In what follows, we begin with a discussion of prior research and the theoretical work

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