The convict code revisited: An examination of prison culture and its association with violent misconduct and victimization


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Within some inner-city neighborhoods, a street culture exists that values autonomy, violence, risk-taking, and street smarts. Street culture is not solely confined to the street; rather, values and beliefs from the street are imported into the prison—where a unique prison culture also exists. The convict code—an inmate-defined and -regulated culture consisting of a set of values that govern behaviors and interactions with inmates and correctional staff—encourages inmates to refrain from snitching, do their time, be tough, and never become too friendly with officers. Following the start of mass incarceration, studies of the convict code almost disappeared from academia, which has led scholars to call for a resurgence of research on prison culture. I sought to answer these calls by creating quantitative measures of the convict code and devising four research questions to explore the subject: Is the convict code a multi-dimensional construct? Who is most likely to adhere to the convict code? Is the convict code associated with violent misconduct? And, is the convict code associated with violent victimization? Data from the LoneStar Project were used. Through face-to-face interview-based surveys, data were collected from 802 randomly sampled male inmates preparing for release in 2016. These data are ideal for studying the convict code since they provide the most comprehensive estimates of the convict code to date and because they were collected in Texas—the largest department of corrections in the nation with a longstanding history of prison culture. Results from exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses reveal that the convict code is multi-dimensional, consisting of four factors: social distance, masculinity, invisibility, and strategic survival. Moreover, ordinary least squares regressions indicate that adherence to factors of the convict code was consistently associated with the code of the street and some prison contextual factors (i.e., procedural justice, and exposure to violence), but other correlates also mattered. And finally, based on findings from logistic regressions, only the strategic survival factor was associated with violent misconduct and victimization. The results from this dissertation have implications for correctional policy and practice pertaining to the prison environment, procedural justice, risk assessments, and treatment programming.



Convict code, Prison culture, Prison misconduct, Prison victimization, Structural equation modeling