Mass Incarceration, the Profession of Corrections, and the Way Prison Workers Construct Meanings about Their Participation in Our Punishment State


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




The vast damages of mass incarceration for prisoners and society are well documented across disciplines. Considering these damages, what are the narratives, scripts, and logics that shape workforce participation in corrections, defining prison work as a viable career path? How do organizational and social myths such as “prisoner rehabilitation” and “public safety” contextualize the ways that prison workers understand their work? Building on prior research by leveraging competing perspectives from organizational theory, the sociology of punishment, and qualitative methods, this dissertation develops thick-description of the nuanced understandings required by workers who direct, manage, and oversee prisons and prisoners. Through interviews with state correctional department directors nationwide, as well as prison wardens and prison guards in a southern state, each inhabiting varying degrees of social proximity to prisoners, the research shows the complex meaning-making required to participate in the punishment of fellow citizens.