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.
- prison officer
- work role