The need for supermax prisons may be offset by decreasing the number of eligible candidates for super-max confinement through readjusting the correctional environment. Some initiatives have been launched to improve correctional staff culture in the hope that positive effects will follow for inmates. A correctional staff culture that is less tolerant of staff-inmate harassment and achieves a greater “buy in” to programmatic efforts might engender a safer prison environment. Despite these efforts, it is reasonable to assume that acts of extreme violence and disorder will nonetheless remain part of prison life. The question becomes whether changes in the institutional environment can have sufficient impact so that existing institutional segregation units and non-isolation disciplinary measures can control disorderly inmates without the necessity of supermax classification.
Assessing the need of supermax facilities also requires careful consideration of net-widening effects. Net widening, within this context, refers to the process of admitting inmates to supermax custody because of available unit space, not necessarily due to misconduct. Many inmates engage in assaults and disruptive behaviors during their commitment periods, but supermax confinement is meant for the highest risk inmates. If “nuisance” inmates are sent to a supermax prison, supermax prisons are not serving their intended goals and net widening occurs. This phenomenon also has negative cost implications because less restrictive environments are cheaper than supermax confinement.
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