Examining the Link Between Prison Crowding and Inmate Misconduct: Evidence from Prison-Level Panel Data [2018]

Despite the persistent belief that overcrowding in prisons increases inmate violence and misconduct, empirical research on the impact of crowding on misconduct has generated mixed findings. These inconsistencies may be due to methodological limitations, particularly the use of cross-sectional analyses and possible confounding effects of unobserved prison characteristics. Based on contemporary panel data from the Pennsylvania state prison system, the current study uses fixed effects methods to estimate this elusive relationship. Findings demonstrate that crowded prisons can lead to increases in misconducts, although this relationship diminishes as crowding worsens. However, our results do not provide strong support for the expected relationship between crowding and violent misconduct specifically. Our analyses further suggest that the observed effects of crowding are largely due to the opening and closing of correctional facilities, which created large variation in crowding among the remaining facilities. Policy implications and future directions are discussed.

Emily Glazener & Kiminori Nakamura

Justice Quarterly, 27 Oct 2018