American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Earl Smith and Angela Hattery

Earl Smith and Angela Hattery, both at George Mason University, worked with a state Department of Corrections in various cities throughout that state. ASA asked Smith and Hattery about their work:

What does the Department of Corrections do? The mission is to incarcerate people. The goal is to do the best, safest, most humane confinement possible.

Could you describe your project? We collaborated with the state DOC to go into four prisons and interview both inmates confined in, and corrections officers working in, solitary confinement. We sought to learn more about the changes in policy that the state DOC has implemented to protect inmates who are in solitary and provide relief and support for corrections officers working in solitary, with a special focus on mental health and rape prevention.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills did you use? Our expertise in qualitative methods (ethnography and interviewing) was utilized to design interview protocols and collect interview and ethnographic data. In particular, our scholarly expertise on race, gender, and the carceral state strengthened the research team who did not otherwise have expertise in these scholarly areas.

How did you connect with Department of Corrections? We were initially part of a research team conducting policy research with the state DOC.

Duration of the project? Four months.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? We hope our analysis will lead to improvements in the conditions for inmates and corrections officers confined and working in solitary confinement.