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Explanations of institutional aggression
One explanation of institutional aggression is the deprivation model which suggests that it is the
institutional environment itself that plays a major role in the cause of a prisoner's aggression. There
are several situational factors that build to this which can be thought of as organisational (such as
leadership, management), physical (security level) and staff characteristics (gender, level of
Sykes believed that prisoners' behaviour and subcultures develop within the prison and not because
of social history or dispositions. He described five deprivations which led to aggressive behaviours
within a prison. The first, deprivation of liberty, which from the use of uniforms and number causes
prisoners to believe they aren't trusted to live in the free world and have lost their civil rights.
Deprivation of autonomy causes prisoners to feel helpless as officials have control over them.
Deprivation of goods and services is particularly true in Western cultures, as there is a large emphasis
on possessions, and the prisoners feel a sense of failure when they are deprived of them.
Deprivation of heterosexual relationships, can lead to a loss of self-identity as male female
relationships develop this therefore leading to a loss in self-worth. Finally, deprivation of security,
causes a heightened sense of physical threat as inmates are perceived as aggressive so there is a
fear for own safety. Johnstone (1991) found that prison crowding leads to increased competition for
resources and the tendency to adopt violent defensive behaviours.
As the deprivation model does not take into account past experiences or genetics it is very much in
favour of nurture causing aggression. Research to support this comes from Jiang and Fisher who
applied various explanations of aggression to disciplinary reports from an American male prison and
found the situational model best explained the aggression against prison staff. Therefore, this can
explain why different institutions see varying amounts of aggression because each prison would
have different situational factors. This suggests that the deprivation model is reliable as a large
sample size was used and findings corresponded to the model.
However, contradicting the nurture explanation is the thought that prisoners are not a `blank slate'
when they enter prison as they bring specific dispositional characteristics with them that can increase
the likelihood of aggression. This explanation is known as the importation model and is supported in
research by Harer and Steffensmeier who found that black inmates had higher rates of violent
behaviour than white inmates. These patterns were parallel to the racial differences in US society.
Therefore a prison is just where the aggression is displayed not significantly important in the cause
suggesting it is due to dispositional factors.
Also, the situational model does not take into account riots that erupt with no situational factors. For
example, levels of deprivation remain fairly constant in many institutions yet violence can erupt
suddenly. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to focus on levels of relative aggression rather
than absolute deprivation. Also, it does not take into account all types of aggression in prisons.
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Another criticism of the model is that a lot of prison aggression has unexplained motives making it
difficult to conduct research. Light found that 25% of prison assaults had no apparent reason and
Gottman reported that prisoners often attempt to hide motives behind aggressive actions.
Therefore we can't make firm conclusions as the information us unknown making the evidence lack
internal and external validity.…read more