An inmate counterculture presents a barrier to the institutional goal of long-term reform. If the counterculture is a reaction to deprivations caused by incarceration, increasing autonomy would help co-opt the counterculture to cooperation with the institutional program. Data concerning autonomy for inmates and their adaptation to incarceration were collected from over 400 residents and 160 staff members at institutions for juvenile offenders. The research design avoided confounding autonomy with inmate characteristics and institutional setting, and included a broad range of measures of inmates' adaptation. Inmate reports of greater autonomy were associated with adaptations that were considerably more favorable to institutional goals. There was little relationship between staff reports of autonomy and either inmate reports of autonomy or inmate adaptation. This can be explained by a lack of variance in staff perceptions of groups, meaning that staff members failed to discriminate differences that were substantial in the eyes of inmates.