“It Ain’t Home Base No More:” Sentencing Reform and Dynamic County Jail Inmate Politics

AuthorJonathan W. Caudill,Chad R. Trulson,Matt DeLisi,James W. Marquart
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
It Aint Home Base No
Reform and Dynamic
County Jail Inmate
Jonathan W. Caudill
Chad R. Trulson
, Matt DeLisi
and James W. Marquart
Inmate politics in prisons has been well chronicled. Yet, little is known about
the role of inmate politics in county jails. Utilizing data from a natural
experiment and complied through longitudinal case study methods, this
study observed the dynamic socio-political concepts of the county jail inmate
environment that followed Californias 2011 sentencing reform. Identifying
those aspects of the jail inmate political system that shifted enhancements
in the role of race relations among inmates, an expansion of the inmate
economy, and emergence of utilitarian violence also permits a clearer
understanding of the jail inmate political system.
jails, inmate politics, inmate economy, sentencing reform, criminal justice
Univeristy of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA
Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA
Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jonathan W. Caudill, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, School of Public Affairs,
Colorado Springs, CO, 80918, USA.
Email: jcaudill@uccs.edu
The Prison Journal
2022, Vol. 102(4) 417438
© 2022 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00328855221109805
Inmate politics serves as a mechanism of social order in the carceral environment,
where formal social control is limited (Akers et al., 1977; Davidson, 1974; Stastny
& Tyrnauer, 1983; Sykes, 1958) and inmates seek opportunities to minimize the
pains of imprisonment (Clemmer, 1958; Goffman, 1961; Irwin & Cressey, 1962;
Toman et al., 2015; Winfree et al., 2002). The relevance of the inmate polity has
been demonstrated through natural experiments (e.g., judicial interventions) that
fractured the social order of prison systems of multiple states, producing institu-
tional unrest (Jacobs, 1983; Marquart & Crouch, 1985; McCorkle et al., 1995;
Trulson & Marquart, 2010; Walker, 2016; Winfree et al., 2002).
While much is known about how prison inmate politics serve the social
order of prisons, less is known about the nature of the inmate polity in
county jails. The limited literature on how jail inmates do their time and
the incarcerated politics of jails presents divergent perspectives. Irwin
(1985, p. 39) suggested that most jail inmates were disreputable,but gen-
erally unsophisticated criminals. Skarbek (2014), conversely, suggested that
the county jail serves as a conduit between prisons and the community,
where inmates in county jails carry out the orders of prison gang shot
callersto maintain control of the illicit street drug market.
This analysis, based on a case study examining the effects of Californias
2011 sentencing reform legislation, clarif‌ies the relevance and inf‌luence of
inmate politics in county jails. Californias AB 109: Criminal Justice
Realignment (2011) aimed to de-populate the state prison system by transfer-
ring supervision of non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexualfelony offend-
ers to California counties (Assembly Bill 109: Criminal Justice Realignment).
Our research is the f‌irst to report longitudinal shifts in the jail inmate political
system. County jails are central institutions in the criminal justice system, and
it is essential to understand the jail inmate polity and its environment.
Inmate Politics
Prison Inmate Politics
The prison environment has some generalizable characteristics and others that
are more unique to the specif‌ic environment. Sykes(1958) observations of
the maximum-security prison environment found correctional off‌icers
limited ability to control inmate behaviors combined with social and physical
deprivation resulted in the development of subcultural jargon and methods of
maintaining social order. In other words, inmates established a culture that
provided some level of social expectations.
418 The Prison Journal 102(4)

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