Prisoners' perceptions of procedural justice and legitimacy: Examining constructs and effects on recidivism



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This dissertation explores whether and how perceived procedural justice and legitimacy of the law and legal authorities relate to imprisoned men’s attitudes and behaviors within prison and in the community after release. Over a period of nine months in 2016, face-to-face interviews were conducted with 802 male prisoners within one week of their scheduled release from a prison in Huntsville, Texas. Official data were gathered from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Department of Public Safety. With these data, key constructs proposed in the process-based model of regulation are examined to determine consistency, validity, and empirical relationships among measures that previous correctional research inconsistently measured or neglected. Results from confirmatory factor analyses indicate reference group differentiation in respondents’ perceptions of procedural justice and legitimacy of police, correctional officers, and the law; showing that study participants demonstrated a nuanced understanding of procedural justice and dimensions of legitimacy. Structural equation modeling and multivariate regressions reveal differences in procedural justice and legitimacy measures based on respondent characteristics. Independent effects and mediators in the paths among procedural justice and legitimacy variables are assessed with structural equation models. Three main endogenous variables are evaluated: (1) compliance measured as self-reported prison misconduct and official records of post-release rearrest; (2) cooperation operationalized as willingness to provide information to authorities, violence/non-acceptance of state power, and general support of prison staff; and (3) engagement in prosocial activities. Significant relationships among endogenous variables and indicators of procedural justice and legitimacy are observed in the structural equation models, but variation in effects on outcome variables are revealed. Important implications for procedural justice research as well as policy and practice regarding the management and treatment of prisoners are derived from this dissertation.



Procedural justice, Legitimacy, Prison, Reentry, Law, Police