Violence in the Supermax: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Kate King, Benjamin Steiner, Stephanie Ritchie Breach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The supermax prison was designed to control the most violent, assaultive individuals, gang members, and other prisoners who could not be managed in less secure settings. Pelican Bay State Prison, which houses California's supermax, holds approximately 1,300 inmates in its security housing unit (SHU). This article examines the mission, architecture, and organization of Pelican Bay State Prison, the architecture and procedures in the SHU, the training and mind-set of correctional officers who work at Pelican Bay, the inmate culture and mentality, and the findings of the federal court in Madrid v. Gomez, which addressed conditions in the SHU. The authors maintain that the mission of Pelican Bay, combined with the officer and inmate cultures, creates a self fulfilling prophecy: the super violent supermax.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-168
Number of pages25
JournalThe Prison Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Madrid v. Gomez
  • correctional officer culture
  • inmate culture
  • supermax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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