Racial (in)variance in prison rule breaking

Benjamin Steiner, John Wooldredge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Purpose: Sampson and Wilson (1995) argued that the sources of crime are invariant across race, and are instead rooted in the structural differences between communities. This study involved an examination of the applicability of this thesis to incarcerated individuals. Methods: Random samples totaling 2,388 blacks and 3,118 whites were drawn from 46 prisons in Ohio and Kentucky. Race-specific and pooled bi-level models of violent and nonviolent rule violations were estimated. Differences between race-specific models in the magnitude of regression coefficients for the same predictors and outcomes were compared. Results: Findings revealed that individual and environmental effects were very similar between black and white inmates, although rates of violent and nonviolent rule breaking were higher for blacks. Within prisons, black inmates were also more likely than white inmates to engage in rule breaking. The individual-level relationship between race and violence was stronger in prisons with a lower ratio of black to white inmates and in prisons where inmates were more cynical towards legal authority. Conclusions: Findings seemingly refute the applicability of the racial invariance hypothesis to an incarcerated population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-185
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Inmate
  • Prison
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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