Redefining Disciplinary Segregation: Perceptions of Effective Programming Among Program Participants and Staff

AuthorTravis J. Meyers,Kevin A. Wright,Samantha Phillips
Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(7) 756 –784
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221079301
Redefining Disciplinary
Segregation: Perceptions
of Effective Programming
Among Program Participants
and Staff
Travis J. Meyers1, Kevin A. Wright2,
and Samantha Phillips3
People who engage in violence during their incarceration create a number of challenges
for those who live and work in our correctional facilities. In response, there is a
growing focus on the use of short-term confinement in disciplinary segregation that
includes therapeutic programming. The ability of these programs to affect future
behavior, however, is mixed. To better understand why research is mixed, the current
study incorporates the views and perspectives of staff and participants involved
in rehabilitative efforts within a segregated housing setting. Structured interviews
were carried out with 25 former program participants and 10 correctional staff
who oversee the day-to-day management of a disciplinary segregation program in
a U.S. prison that includes rehabilitative programming. Subject perspectives provide
additional direction for the inclusion of programming in segregated housing and a
note of caution for programs that are alternative in name but traditional in practice.
prisons, disciplinary segregation, programming, institutional misconduct, qualitative
1The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA
2Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
3Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Travis J. Meyers, The University of Texas at San Antonio, 501 W. César E. Chávez Blvd., San Antonio,
TX 78249, USA.
1079301CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221079301Criminal Justice Policy ReviewMeyers et al.
Meyers et al. 757
Researchers and practitioners have developed an extensive body of knowledge sur-
rounding “what works” in correctional interventions (see, for example, Smith et al.,
2009). Although the efficacy of various in-prison treatment programs and interven-
tions have received much empirical attention, comparatively less attention has been
given to the attitudes and perceptions of the service providers and participants who are
directly involved in the programs under investigation. If we are to truly understand the
efficacy of a particular program, it is critical that research involves those who “know
it best and experience it most” (Stohr, Hemmens, Kjaer, et al., 2002, p. 22). This would
mean including the perceptions of both program staff and program participants in the
evaluation of correctional programs. Doing so would likely uncover the mechanisms
that may go unobserved in quantitative studies and provide more information as to
why programs work or do not work (McCorkel et al., 1998).
The absence of these perspectives is especially pertinent in questions surrounding
the use of segregation, either permanent or temporary, to address and reduce violent
misconduct within prisons.1 Studies have found that placement in segregation, espe-
cially long-term placement, leads to serious psychological deterioration and may exac-
erbate symptoms of mental illness (American Civil Liberties Union, 2014; Arrigo &
Bullock, 2008; Grassian, 1983; Reiter et al., 2020). At the same time, there is a grow-
ing body of evidence to suggest that traditional placements in segregation, as a means
to address and reduce subsequent misconduct, tend to have little effect on future
behavior (Labrecque, 2015; Labrecque & Smith, 2019; see also Morgan et al., 2016;
Morris, 2016). Furthermore, there is a growing focus on the potential use of short-term
confinement in disciplinary segregation (hereafter referred to as “DS”) that includes
rehabilitative programming following serious institutional acts of violence. Results
from outcome evaluations of these programs, however, continue to suggest mixed
effects for program efficacy (Butler et al., 2018; Meyers et al., 2018). Although infor-
mative, these studies provide only anecdotal evidence as to why these approaches may
be effective or ineffective.
Prior research on the effect of segregation or efficacy of alternative approaches to
DS is limited in that they rely on the use of administrative data to measure outcomes.
Effective solutions to problems associated with serious in-prison misconduct, espe-
cially among the emerging alternative programs in DS, require the inclusion of insid-
ers who are directly involved with the reform efforts. To date, few studies have
incorporated the views and perspectives of program staff or participants involved in
rehabilitative efforts in a segregated housing setting. We believe that the underlying
mechanisms of these programmatic efforts can be best understood by speaking with
those who are directly involved with alternative DS practices. In the end, this may help
explain the mixed effects reported in prior research and help provide important recom-
mendations for correctional agencies looking to simultaneously reduce their segre-
gated populations and effectively address violent in-prison misconduct.
Our goal here is to provide contextual information about programming in DS through
the use of in-depth structured interviews with 10 correctional administrators and staff
who oversee the day-to-day operation of an alternative DS program. We also explore
individual perceptions of the efficacy of the program in reducing violent misconduct, the

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