How Perceptions of Justice Impact Prisoners

Valerie Jenness
Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine

Key Findings

  • Almost 75% of prisoners filed at least one grievance while in a California prison.
  • Of the prisoners that filed one grievance, more than 75% had filed more than once, some having filed dozens.
  • When the grievance is granted, the prisoner is likely to be satisfied with the outcome and the procedures through which it was managed; when the grievance is not granted, the prisoner is likely to be dissatisfied with the outcome and management of the issue.


In the article, “It Depends on the Outcome: Prisoners, Grievances, and Perceptions of Justice,” Jenness and her co-authors examined the social, cultural, and psychological forces that shape prisoner’s perceptions of justice and fairness. To conduct their research, the authors collected interview data from 120 prisoners from three California men’s prisons, a minimum, medium and, maximum security prison, as well as additional data from those prisons’ archives. The researcher’s asked open-ended questions about the prisoners’ lives and situations, coding the types of grievances the prisoners noted. The researchers found that the prisoners claimed many grievances, from facilities and health issues to rights violations and negative experiences. The results showed that almost three-quarters of prisoners had filed at least one grievance with a California prison and of those that filed, 75% had multiple grievances. The researchers found that there was a direct correlation between prisoners’ satisfaction with the outcomes and management with whether or not their grievance was granted.

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