An Examination of Donald Clemmer's Concept of Prisonization and Its Role in the Future Development of Penal Policy in the United States

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Stephen L. Mallory

Advisor Department

Criminal Justice


In The Prison Community (1940; 1958), Donald Clemmer coined the word "prisonization" and defined it as the process by which the psyches and behaviors of convicts were molded by the social and structural hallmarks of prison life. Clemmer's research, moreover, led him to suggest that prisonization largely confounded the social ideal underlying the penitentiary concept: it not only thwarted attempts to rehabilitate convicts but also inspired behavior that was contrary to accepted standards of social conduct. Clemmer was neither the first nor the last to describe this philosophical flaw in the concept of legal incarceration. Indeed, his assessment of the problem, if not the word he coined to express it, has been a recurring theme in the literature of criminal corrections for well over two hundred years. This dissertation examines that theme, advances the theme that what Clemmer termed "prisonization" has been the nexus of the problems that have plagued legal incarceration as well as the seed of a majority of modern penal reforms, and argues that the struggle of ex-inmates to "deprisonize" poses a dire and worsening threat to American society.