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Legitimacy in corrections: A randomized experiment comparing a boot camp with a prison

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Research Summary

To extend research on legitimacy to the correctional system, we study a sample of 202 adult inmates randomly assigned to serve their 6-month sentence at one of two institutions—a traditional prison or a military-style correctional boot camp. Findings show that perceptions of justice system legitimacy changed during the course of incarceration, that the prison (but not the boot camp) proved delegitimizing, and that certain regime characteristics explained why.

Policy Implications

Across academic disciplines, studies continue to link compliance with perceived legitimacy. Compliance with the law, for instance, is related closely to the legitimacy of the justice system and its actors. These findings suggest implementing legitimacy-building policies such as procedurally fair treatment and decision making by police officers and judges. This article, by finding legitimacy to be malleable even at the final stage of the justice process, proposes the efficacy of similar policies in the correctional system. As research from England and Wales has shown, legitimizing strategies in this context could increase compliance both during and after incarceration.
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Keywords: boot camp; legitimacy; prison; procedural justice; randomized experiments

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park. 2: Research analyst with the Federal Bureau of Prisons who received his Ph.D. from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2007. 3: Director of the Justice Center for Research – College of the Liberal Arts and University Outreach, and Professor, Crime, Law and Justice Program, Department of Sociology at the Pennsylvania State University.

Publication date: February 1, 2010

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