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  • Kitty Calavita (a1) and Valerie Jenness (a1)


A large body of social science consistently documents race differences in the U.S. criminal justice system and in related perceptions of justice. It is now beyond dispute that the criminal justice system is racialized in a plethora of ways that have consequences for how people perceive justice. Another vast body of literature documents the importance of perceptions of procedural justice in people’s satisfaction with dispute management and outcomes. Informed by these two well-established literatures, we draw on original quantitative and qualitative data, including a random sample of interviews with 120 men in three California prisons, to present an empirical analysis of prisoners’ experiences with the prisoner grievance system, their level of satisfaction with the process and outcomes of that system, and their perceptions of fairness. We find an absence of race effects regarding how fairly they say they have been treated in the past by the criminal justice system and in how they assess justice in the prisoner grievance system in particular. Specifically, we find that: 1) male prisoners’ perceptions of whether the overall criminal justice system has been fair to them in the past does not vary by race in statistically significant ways; and 2) the dominance of substantive grievance outcomes over procedural elements in prisoners’ satisfaction holds regardless of racial self-identification. We explain these findings by arguing that prison may perversely level the attitudinal gap among those who are subject to this profound experience of state power.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Professor Kitty Calavita, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine, 3305 Social Ecology II, Irvine, California 92697–7080. E-mail:


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