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Discuss psychological explanations of institutional aggression (8+16)
A prison is a type of institution which exhibits aggression within groups.
This sort of aggression can be explained through the importation model suggested by Irwin
and Cressey who proposed that inmates import their own social histories and violent
characteristics which influences their behaviour in prison.
In addition, Marcell et al commented on how pre-prison gang membership is an important
determiner of prison misconduct. In prison institutions, gang members disproportionately
engage in acts of prison violence as opposed to non-members; research found that gang
members in the US were 10 times more likely to murder and 3 times more likely to assault
than those outside a gang from a similar age and background.
A strength of the importation model is that it has research support by Harer and
Steffenmeier who in a study of 58 US prisons found that patterns of misconduct for
particular groups within prison institutions tended to parallel differences observed outside
For instance, black inmates showed significantly higher rates of violent behaviour in prisons
whereas white inmates showed higher rates of drug and alcohol related misconduct,
reflecting behaviour outside of prison which has been imported. These differences reflect
the statistical differences found in US society generally, thus making the importation model
high in mundane realism to explain institutional aggression.
On the other hand, there are problems with the gang-membership aspect of the
importation model because Delisi et al found that inmates with prior street-gang
involvement were no more likely than other inmates to engage in prison violence.
This lack of correlation between the two might however be explained by sampling issues
because violent gang members tend to be isolated from the general inmate population, as
Fischer found that isolating known gang members reduces the rates of institutional
aggression by 50%; this in turn reduces the internal validity of Delisi's findings thus making it
less of a criticism of the gang-membership aspect of the importation model.
Moreover, the importation model also encompasses the deprivation model which predicts
institutional aggression in stressful or oppressive conditions including overcrowding, physical
conditions of heat and noise and a lack of meaningful activity.
Crowding for example is assumed to increase fear and frustration levels, which would
naturally lead to aggression as a sign of status in prison to establish more commodities for
Skyes (1958) described the specific deprivations within prison which might be linked to an
increase in violence, such as: A loss of liberty, loss of autonomy and security. Inmates cope
with these pains of imprisonment in several ways, including violence against other inmates
The deprivation model also has supporting evidence by McCorkle et al who found that
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A real world application that has arisen from the deprivation model is that changes to
prisons have led to reduced aggression. Wilson (2010) reformed HMP Woodhull by giving
inmates more space, less noise and a lower temperature and which resulted in a dramatic
decrease in institutional aggression among inmates.
Wilson's findings have an application to prisons so that less violence occurs meaning that
less security procedures have to be enforced to save the government millions of pounds.…read more