The Effects of Changes in Jail Population Densities on Crowding, Sick Call, and Spatial Behavior

Richard E. Wener, Christopher Keys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceived crowding, rate of sick calls, and use of space were studied among jail inmates. The inmates had been randomly assigned to one of two jail units that were identical in design and management, but varied in population density levels. Initially, population density was rated at capacity on one unit, and over capacity on the other. Data were collected before and after a court order that caused population levels to be decreased on the unit over capacity and increased on the other, so that after the change density on both units was the same. Comparison data were also collected on several other units. The results revealed both absolute and contrast effects for density on inmates. Perceived crowding and sick call rates varied directly with density levels, but also were affected by the direction of shift. That is, when population levels were equal after the change, perceived crowding and sick call rates were higher on the unit that had experienced an increase in density. Also, as population levels increased, there tended to bean increase in isolated passive behavior and a decrease in isolated active behavior in public areas. Implications for crowding research and for jail design and management are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)852-866
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Aug 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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