What Are the Causes of Prison Violence?

Racial tensions can cause prison violence.
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Prisons provide safety for communities as they house convicted criminals. However, the danger may lie inside the facility itself, which can be over run with violence. When a group of aggressive individuals, who already have minimal self-control, is quarantined in tight quarters, violence results. Several reasons for prison violence contribute to the problem in state and federal institutions.


The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that the Federal Bureau of Prisons and 19 states are over capacity, with 20 additional states also close to maximum prison capacity. A case in point: Chino Men's Prison in California, was built to hold 3,000 inmates; it currently holds 5,900 prisoners. In 2009, Chino, California prison inmates staged a riot which resulted in the injury of at least 175 prisoners. Overcrowding increases stress under the best of conditions, let alone in situations when individuals have limited coping skills, such as prisons.


Gang affiliations, rivalries and disputes account for a percentage of violent incidents in prison as well. While gang members can avoid contact with other gangs on the outside, close quarters do not allow rival inmates this luxury in prison. Along the same lines, racial issues and affiliations divide inmates and can result in violence as well.

Prisoner Make-Up

Some prisoners come into a facility with violent tendencies. The prison can increase their underlying internal aggression.

Read More: How to Marry a Prisoner

Prsion Architecture

Single cells reduce the opportunity for inmate violence, with the exception of suicide. When staff selects prisoner cell mates haphazardly, the results can be deadly. Other design factors include the inability for staff to see hidden areas of the prison or housing issues. Direct inmate supervision, on the other hand, reduces violence from prisoner to prisoner and prisoners to staff.


A lack of staff training or inexperience also results in prisoner violence. Poorly equipped staff may have trouble interacting with inmates or responding to them professionally.

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