Professor Amy E. Lerman is a political scientist who studies issues of race, public opinion, and political behavior, especially as they relate to punishment and social inequality in America. She is the author of two books on the American criminal justice system—The Modern Prison Paradox and Arresting Citizenship. Her most recent book, Good Enough for Government Work, examines how perceptions of government shape citizens’ attitudes toward privatization. Professor Lerman’s scholarship can be found in a variety of journals, including the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, Political Psychology, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and Punishment and Society. In addition to her academic work, Lerman served as a speechwriter and communications consultant for national nonprofits and members of the United States Congress, a community organizer in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and an adjunct faculty member of the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison. She consults widely on issues related to prison reform, violence reduction, access to higher education, and law enforcement mental health.
Download a PDF (241KB, updated 02-20-2019)
Areas of Expertise
- Criminal Justice
- Health Policy
- Political Psychology
- Race & Ethnicity
- Public Opinion
Last updated on 02/20/2019
GSPP Working Paper (April 2018)
Party polarization is a central feature of American political life, and a robust literature has shown that citizens engage in partisan-confirmation bias when processing political information. At the same time, however, recent events have highlighted a rising tide of anti-government populism that manifests on both sides of the aisle. In fact, data show that large proportions of both Democrats and Republicans hold negative views of government. Using an original set of survey experiments, we examine the psychology of public-sector evaluation. We find that citizens engage in a process of confirmation bias when they encounter new information, which is driven not by party and ideology but by beliefs about the quality and efficiency of government. Taken together, our findings suggest important limitations to citizens’ capacity to learn about public administration, and expand our understanding of what drives confirmation bias with respect to public and private service provision.
In just four decades, the size of the U.S. state prison population grew by more than 700 percent. By 2008, the number of incarcerated individuals in the United States hit an all-time high, with 1 in 100 adults in either prison or jail and fully 1 in every 31 American adults under some form of correctional jurisdiction (including incarceration, probation, and parole).
Researchers have noted these patterns and trends with alarm. Yet while expansive studies have been conducted on correctional systems in the United States, most of this work begins and ends with a focus on the incarcerated. Much of the early literature either ignores correctional personnel altogether, or paints an overly simplistic picture. While interest in those who work inside American prisons has begun to grow, we still know surprisingly little about what happens to correctional personnel as a function of spending a career inside the prison system.
Like the number of people incarcerated, the ranks of people employed by the U.S. criminal justice system have increased substantially. As of 2003, almost 13 percent of all public employees (and a larger percentage in 15 states and the District of Columbia) worked in the criminal justice sector. Corrections alone accounts for more than 63 percent of state criminal justice employees, with police protection and judicial/legal employees accounting for the other 14 and 22 percent, respectively. In recent years, the correctional system has employed more people than General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart combined.
On the front lines of the prison system, correctional officers, perhaps more than anyone else, directly affect the practice of incarceration in the way that they perform their jobs. Because of this, correctional programs and policies can have little chance of success without their overall health. This is particularly important when considering the mission of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and its goals of promoting public safety through a professional staff, as well as a constructive correctional and rehabilitation environment. Understanding that correctional work can negatively impact the well-being of both inmates and correctional officers, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the CCPOA Benefit Trust Fund (BTF), and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) have joined forces with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) to address the issues of law enforcement health and wellness.
As a starting point, Dr. Amy E. Lerman and her team at UCB developed the California Correctional Officer Survey (CCOS). The CCOS is a large-scale effort to gather individual-level information on the thoughts, attitudes, and experiences of criminal justice personnel. The CCOS was first conducted in 2006, and the instrument was then expanded and replicated from March to May of 2017. The most recent survey includes a sample of 8,334 officers and other sworn staff, providing a vast cross-section of officers across all of California’s correctional institutions and parole offices.
This report summarizes the results of the CCOS across a set of broad but related categories: mental and physical wellness; exposure to violence; attitudes towards rehabilitation and punishment; job training and management; work-life balance; and training and support.
Officer Health and Wellness (203KB)
Lerman, Amy E. and Vesla M. Weaver. Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control. The University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Lerman, Amy E. The Modern Prison Paradox: Politics, Punishment, and Social Community. Cambridge UP, 2013.
In The Modern Prison Paradox, Amy E. Lerman examines the shift from rehabilitation to punitivism that has taken place in the politics and practice of American corrections. She argues that this punitive turn has had profoundly negative consequences for both crime control and American community life. Professor Lerman's research shows that spending time in America's increasingly violent and castigatory prisons strengthens inmates' criminal networks and fosters attitudes that increase the likelihood of criminal activity following parole. Additionally, Professor Lerman assesses whether America's more punitive prisons similarly shape the social attitudes and behaviors of correctional staff. Her analysis reveals that working in more punitive prisons causes correctional officers to develop an “us against them” mentality while on the job, and that the stress and wariness officers acquire at work carries over into their personal lives, straining relationships with partners, children, and friends.
Articles and Op-Eds
Slate, December 23, 2014
USA Today, June 14, 2017
The Marshall Project, June 14, 2017