Measuring Correctional Victimization: Modern Day Methods for an Age-old Problem

Sara Debus-Sherrill

Major Professor: Danielle S. Rudes, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Allison D. Redlich, JoAnn Lee

Online Location, Online
November 13, 2020, 12:30 PM to 02:00 PM


The negative impacts of victimization are well-studied in community settings, but there are comparatively fewer studies about being victimized while incarcerated. This dissertation provides a review of the literature related to correctional victimization and a quantitative analysis of the methodological approaches used in recent studies. Through a measurement lens, 37 recent publications (published 2013 to 2017) were systematically reviewed and coded. Methodological characteristics of these publications were descriptively analyzed, and a sensitivity analysis was employed to understand how these publications’ use of duplicative data sources influenced these findings.

Based on this analysis, a number of conclusions are reached. While there have been some notable gains in the field during this recent period, particularly related to nationally representative estimates, significant gaps of knowledge nonetheless exist due to the limitations of current methodological approaches. Incomplete operationalizations leave basic knowledge gaps; highly vulnerable populations are some of the least studied groups; contextual measures, agency responses, and victim impacts are rarely assessed; and inconsistent definitions and approaches to measurement make it difficult to come to a consensus on how extensive correctional victimization is. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of how methodological issues related to variable operationalization, study methods, and measures influence our understanding of incarceration-based victimization, as well as recommendations for future research, policy, and practice.

In particular, this paper argues that, to fill critical gaps, researchers should use more comprehensive and specific operationalizations of victimization and prioritize the study of jail and juvenile settings, LGBTQ and female populations, preventative interventions, and the aftermath of correctional victimization incidents. Practitioners and policy makers can use a variety of tools to guide their prevention and response strategies, including situational crime prevention techniques, screening instruments which predict risk of being victimized, ongoing training and coaching, the PREA Standards, and multiple technical assistance centers with expertise in these issues. Selected approaches should be victim-centered and take into account the unique vulnerabilities of incarcerated individuals.