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Discuss research into institutional aggression. (8 marks + 16 marks)
Institutional aggression refers to aggression within or between groups or institutions (e.g.
armed forces and prisons). Much of the research on models of institutional aggression has
been done in prison environments. The Importation model suggests that inmates in prison
bring their social histories and traits into prison with them. This influences their adaptation
into the prison environment. People who were more aggressive outside of prison will be
more aggressive in prison: they are not 'blank slates' when they enter prison.
The importation model has received research support, particularly in terms of individual
factors such as age, education and race. Harer and Steffensmeier collected data from 58 US
prisons and found that black inmates had significantly higher rates of violent behaviour but
lower rates of alcohol related and drug related misconduct than white inmates. These
patterns parallel racial differences in these behaviours in the US and so support the
However, DeLisi et al's research challenges the importation model. They found that inmates
with prior street gang involvement were no more likely than other inmates to engage in
prison violence. However this lack of correlation might be explained by the fact that gang
members are isolated in prison and their opportunities for violence restricted.
The deprivation model suggests that aggression in prisons and other institutions is the
product of the stressful and miserable conditions of the institution itself. For example,
aggression in prisons can by catalysed by deprivation of liberty, lack of autonomy, lack of
goods or services, lack of heterosexual relationships and absence of ample security.
There is a substantial amount of research evidence to support this model. For example,
McCorkle et al. found that overcrowding, lack of autonomy & the lack of meaningful activity
in prisons all significantly influence violence. However, these factors did not influence the
likelihood of major collective acts of aggression (i.e. prison riots), suggesting that the
deprivation model may only apply to some forms of aggression. In fact the deprivations of
prison are constant whereas riots are occasional. This has led some to suggest management
issues may cause violence if a prison is poorly managed.
Aggression in prisons can be controlled by changing conditions, showing that deprivation
can increase aggression. For example, Wilson changed the deprivation conditions at HMP
Woodhill, and levels of violence decreased, giving support to the deprivation model. This
also presents a useful applicationof this research: it can be used to reduce levels of violence
in prisons by improving living conditions in those prisons. However such changes did not last
at Woodhill and would not be sustainable due to political pressure the general public do
not want the worst prisoners being treated well.
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Just as the deprivation model may not apply to all forms of aggression, it may also not apply
to all types of institutions. Nijman et al.found that increased personal space in psychiatric
institutions failed to decrease the amount of violence among patients. This suggests that
while the deprivation model may be applicable to prison environments, it may not be
relevant to violence within psychiatric institutions.…read more