NYCHS presents Ron Roizen's
 'the courts' of clinton prison

A 1972 Joshua Fretwald Clinton CF "courts" photo detail.

After Attica prison's tragic riot in September, 1971, New York State correctional officials authorized comprehensive studies of conditions at the 19 state correctional facilities.

Architect Herbert McLaughlin's firm participated in the study at Clinton CF in Dannemora. McLaughlin called sociologist Ron Roizen to tell him that the gently sloping hillside portion of that prison's recreation yard was the site of a great collection of ramshackle-looking "patios," each the "property" of a small group of inmate "owners."

Dr. Ron Roizen

  • B.A., M.A., & Ph.D. all in sociology & all from the University of California, Berkeley.
  • consultant architectural sociologist on projects involving office, airport, college dorm, jail, prison, and psychiatric care environments.
  • research staff member at Berkeley's Alcohol Research Group most of 1971-1991.
  • Currently an independent sociological consultant.
  • He lives with his family in Wallace, Idaho.
  • His own web site is at

Roizen was told that, "Inmates waited months, sometimes even years, to gain this privilege. The groups would gather during yard time to shoot the breeze, cook, eat, smoke, and generally 'get away from' the rigors and boredom of prison life."

McLaughlin invited Roizen to go out to Dannemora to study "this anomalous phenomenon," and he accepted on the spot.

The sociologist spent a week wandering through Dannemora yard dens -- the inmates and staff call them "The Courts."

Roizen's original assignment, as he later phrased it, had been to figure out how the courts fit into the larger social ecology of the prison's life and whether any refurbishing or redesign at Clinton would not inadvertently undercut their viability.

Roizen focused on how they originated and what factors tended to threaten or promote their viability.

In the yard and elsewhere in the facility, he interviewed inmates and staff (old-timers as well as newer arrivals) and haunted Dannemora's town library to research its history.

The result was Roizen's 55-page report on the courts and 11-page history of the prison. Nearly all the text on those 66 pages has been transcribed in this NYCHS presentation.

"The Courts" section of the presentation has been organized for web format purposes into eight parts using headings and subheadings from the original text:

List of Parts of Presentation

  • part 1: introduction, physical setting
  • part 2: social organization
  • part 3: courts organization
  • part 4: beginnings & growth of the courts
  • part 5: functions & meanings of the courts
  • part 6: design implications of this analysis
  • part 7: discussion
  • part 8: notes, title page, acknowledgments

Webmaster Note: For the uncropped larger original from which the above courts image detail was taken and for a brief 1-page description by Roizen of his part in the overall Clinton CF study, visit his web site at