Supermax Prisons:Myths, Realities, and the Politics of Punishment in American Society

Jesenia M. Pizarro, Vanja M.K. Stenius, Travis C. Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


In recent years, a number of new policies in corrections have developed, one of which is the placement of disruptive inmates in supermaximum, or supermax, prisons. The extant empirical research on supermax facilities suggests that these institutions have the potential to damage inmates' mental health while failing to meet their purported goals thereby resulting in added problems for correctional administrators and increased economic costs to public budgets without apparent benefits. As a result, one has to ask why supermax prisons are so popular. This article explores changes that have occurred in penal thought, policy, and practice in the United States in the last 3 decades that contributed to the increase in popularity of supermax prisons. Existing research suggests that these prisons are a prime example of the shift in cultural sensibilities in American society toward greater punitiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-21
Number of pages16
JournalCriminal Justice Policy Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • American penal policy
  • solitary confinement
  • supermax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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