Research reveals inmate misconduct results from various factors including age, gang membership, program participation, and mental illness. However, no research has examined the influence of physical illness on misconduct. Per general strain theory, we argue that poor physical health is a significant strain that may negatively affect behavior. Using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2004 Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities (SISCF), we investigate how acute illnesses, chronic conditions, and physical disabilities influence misconduct. Results suggest acute conditions increase the likelihood of general, serious, and nonserious misconduct in prison. Conversely, chronic ailments decrease the likelihood of all types of misconduct. We find moderate effects for physical disability. Experiencing acute health conditions while incarcerated significantly increases the likelihood of misconduct, suggesting that by appropriately addressing inmates’ acute ailments, it may be possible to concurrently improve inmate health and decrease misconduct to enhance the lives of those in prison.

Jessica M. Grosholz, Daniel C. Semenza
Criminal Justice and Behavior, June 4, 2018