The state of the job: An embedded work role perspective on prison officer attitudes

Amy E. Lerman, Joshua Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Although the United States has grown increasingly punitive in the last three decades, there is considerable variation across states. On a variety of indicators, California is much more punitive than Minnesota. Using data from two original, large-N surveys, we analyze whether these differences in the orientations of state correctional systems are reflected in the attitudes of workers who are tasked with the day-to-day oversight of state prisons. With respect to the purpose of imprisonment, we find that California prison officers are significantly more punitive than those in Minnesota. In contrast, officers in each state express similar levels of support for basic rehabilitation programs. Based on these findings, we propose an embedded work role perspective, which posits that officers across states reflect a shared position within the prison organization, but that the prisons in which they work are embedded in broader penal and political environments that predict differences in attitudes across state contexts. This conceptualization of prison officer orientations has implications for policymakers, prison administrators, and scholars concerned with the politics and practice of work and incarceration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)503-529
Number of pages27
JournalPunishment and Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012


  • imprisonment
  • prison officer
  • punitiveness
  • rehabilitation
  • work role

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The state of the job: An embedded work role perspective on prison officer attitudes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this