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Discuss one institutional explanation of
One explanation of institutional aggression is the importation model. Irwin and Cressey believed it
was wrong to consider inmate interactions as a sole cause of aggression and instead past
experiences and characteristics should be considered. They proposed the importation model which
described three inmate subcultures.
The first was the thief subculture. These were career criminals who believed in trust between
inmates. If this trust was to be broken, aggression would then occur. The second was the convict
subculture, criminals with an extensive criminal record who used aggression as a maladaptive coping
mechanism. Kane and Janus found that those with a poor education, a history of unemployment and a
serious criminal record were more likely to be aggressive. The last was the "straight" subculture, first
time offenders who avoided other subcultures and identified more with prison staff. Irwin and
Cressey found that one time offenders were perceived by other inmates as "straights" illuminating
the fact that they rejected the other more aggressive prison subcultures.
An advantage of the importation model is that there is research that has indicated that aggressive
behaviour can be imported into prisons as part of the prisoner's social standing. For example, Harer
and Steffensmeier found that black inmates had higher rates of violent behaviour than white inmates.
These patterns are parallel to racial differences in US society. Therefore, instead of viewing inmates
as solely influenced by one shared, common set of values, the Importation model has merit in looking
at subcultures with prison institutions.
However McCorckle argued that the theory has little practical applications to reduce aggression in
institutions. For example, even though the theory explains aggression well, it can not lead to any
measures that can be put in place in the institutions as the aggression is present before entering the
institution. Therefore, it might be more appropriate to consider a theory such as the Deprivation
model as this can lead to further measures to reduce the aggression in an institution.
Also, the model fails to acknowledge environmental factors such as social learning and uniform. For
example the deprivation of liberty that occurs inside a prison such as assigning prisoners numbers
and uniforms is derogatory towards them and demonstrates that they have lost their civil rights. The
stress of the situation can then cause aggression, something the importation model does not
consider. Therefore, instead of the incomprehensive isolation model, in order to fully understand the
causes of aggression it might be more appropriate to consider the interaction of both the
dispositional and situational factors as a whole.