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The Boston Globe


Uncommon Knowledge

When boys get more competitive (or don’t)

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

Peace through complaining

In 1974, in response to a rash of prison riots, the Federal Bureau of Prisons initiated a grievance system that remains in place today. Prisoners have 20 days to file a complaint from the date of an incident, and prison officials have 20 days to respond. Although this system might seem like window dressing, a criminologist with the US Marshals Service finds otherwise. According to his analysis, late responses — but not judgments on the complaints themselves — are associated with more inmate violence. In other words, inmates seem to be satisfied when their grievances are heard, regardless of outcome, and angered only by a lack of response.

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