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Hooked on Punishment: Symbolic Violence and the Drug War Inside U.S. Prisons

Race, Ethnicity and Law

ISBN: 978-1-78714-604-4, eISBN: 978-1-78714-603-7

Publication date: 25 May 2017



More than half of those who are incarcerated have cited a history of drug abuse before or during arrest. Although social science literature has noted the disparate effects of criminal sentencing for drug possession, little research has explored the punitive measures enacted and enforced by the correctional facilities in which prisoners reside.


Using data from the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, this study estimates a series of logistic regressions to examine the predictors of receiving disciplinary action. Men and women are examined separately to investigate whether these patterns vary across men’s and women’s correctional facilities. The notions of both symbolic and structural violence are used to gain a better understanding of the experiences of drug addicts who are incarcerated.


Findings indicate that net of the effect of demographic characteristics and previous contact with the criminal legal system, men who are punished for rule violations involving drugs in prisons are approximately twice as likely to receive disciplinary action than inmates who are disciplined for all infractions, other than assaulting other inmates. Moreover, black inmates are significantly more likely to receive disciplinary actions or sanctions than whites.


The findings suggest that disciplinary action is more frequently experienced by those who are drug dependent or use drugs within prison with an even greater penalty for black prisoners in men’s facilities.




We would like to thank Dr. Monica McDermott, Dr. Tim Liao, Dr. Traci Schlesinger, Brian F. O’Neill, Matthew Schneider, and Kristen Ethier for their substantive feedback and support.


Lee, M.J. and Rochin, N. (2017), "Hooked on Punishment: Symbolic Violence and the Drug War Inside U.S. Prisons", Race, Ethnicity and Law (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 22), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 155-174.



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