"Getting tough" on convicts. Chain gangs and striped uniforms. Taking away television sets and weights. "No-frills" prisons.

It may sound good to a society sick of crime, and politicians intent on election or re-election. But a Sam Houston State University survey of 641 prison wardens indicates that most have doubts about the practical benefits of such reforms.

Findings by researchers at the university's Criminal Justice Center included:

"This does not mean that wardens are 'soft on crime,'" said Dr. Timothy J. Flanagan, dean and director of the Criminal Justice Center. "Rather, these people understand the day-to-day realities of running huge correctional facilities."

The wardens approach prison from a functional, non-ideological perspective, said Flanagan. "They support programs, policies and amenities that help them to run safer, more orderly prisons."

"Amenities" such as cable television, education programs and recreation programs are important for two reasons, he said. First, they help to soak up idle time and provide constructive activities for inmates. Second, they serve as "carrots" that can be used to control misbehavior and reward good behavior.

"Making prisons tougher makes for great speeches," said Flanagan, "but ignores the realities of prison administration."

Flanagan suggested that before making pronouncements about how prisons should be administered, political leaders should consult the professionals who run them. Other findings included:

While 80 percent of the wardens who responded were white and 86 percent were males, 30.3 percent classified themselves as Independents, 30.1 percent as Democrats, and 25.7 percent as Republicans. Approximately 50 percent considered themselves "middle-of-the-road," 37.5 percent said they were "conservatives," and 7.5 percent considered themselves "liberal."

Criminal Justice Center researchers sent questionnaires to 823 wardens of adult correctional facilities across the nation. They received what they described as a "very high" response rate of 78 percent, an important factor in survey accuracy.

The survey was conducted by Flanagan, Dr. Wes Johnson, and doctoral student Katherine Bennett. Results of the study will be presented in March at the meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in Las Vegas.


For more information, contact Dr. Timothy Flanagan at 409-294-1632, or e-mail Media contact is Frank Krystyniak at 409-294-1833, 409-295-8541 (home), or e-mail

Feb. 2, 1996