Prisoners' Adjustment, Correctional Officers, and Context: The Foreground and Background of Punishment in Late Modernity


  • The authors would like to thank Joachim Savelsberg and Joshua Page for helpful comments and Rosemary Gartner for her role in data collection.

Please direct all correspondence to Mike Vuolo, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, 909 Social Sciences Bldg., 267 19th Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN 55455; e-mail:


Past research indicates that front-line criminal justice workers are the critical players in determining whether innovations in penal policy are realized. Recent attempts to understand the diversity in the application of the penal harm movement have, however, sidestepped the primary audience of these policies, the population of convicted offenders. This article uses data from two prisons to examine the effects of correctional officers on women prisoners' adjustment to prison life. Using regression models and interview data, we find that correctional officer behavior has a profound impact on women's ability to adjust to prison, and this effect is largely independent of the prisoners' characteristics and the institutions in which they are housed. On a theoretical level, the findings speak to recent calls to examine the background and foreground of penal culture. On a practical level, they highlight the need to understand the environments from which women are emerging, not just the communities into which they are released.