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Discuss psychological explanations of two or more forms of institutional aggression (8
marks + 16 marks)
Institutional aggression (IA) can be described as aggressive behaviour intended to harm or
injure another human being, this could include both psychical and psychological harm. IA
occurs when aggressive behaviour becomes the norm of an institution IA involves a more
complex psychological process than interpersonal aggression and therefore may have more
traumatic consequences for the victim. The majority of research on IA is conducted in
prisons in turn leading to two major models being proposed in an attempt to understand
why interpersonal violence occurs frequently in prisons these are the importation and
The importation model (IM) was first suggested by Irwin and Cressey
(1962) and suggests that inmates bring personal traits into prison with them which therefore
influences their adaptation into the prison environment. The researchers argued that the
normative system developed in the outside world is imported into the prison therefore
people who were more aggressive outside of prison are likely to continue this trait in the
prison environment. The importation model argues that it is not the situational pressures of
prison that cause aggression but the personalities of individuals within it.
Support for the IM comes from Adams (1981) who found in the context of
American prisons black inmates were more likely to be associated with violent acts than
white inmates, the argument for this being that black prisoners tend to come from poorer
backgrounds with higher level of crime therefore this will be imported into their prison
lifestyle. However, this study lacks historical validity due the representation of black
individuals in the present day black citizens are equally likely to have a good upbringing.
The study also lacks population validity as it is an American study and therefore cannot be
generalised to nonwestern cultures.
Additional support for the IM is presented by Keller and Wang (2005) who found
prison violence is more likely to occur in facilities with higher security inmates (therefore
who had previously committed violent crimes) than those with lower security inmates in
turn supporting the idea that inmates had brought violent behaviour into the institution.
A common weakness of studies on IA within prisons is that there is a gender bias,
studies have focused on analysing the behaviour of men and therefore researchers take an
andocentric (male view) of aggression.
The IM predicts membership to a violent gang can result increased levels of
violence however a study of over 800 male inmates found no evidence that gang
membership prior to confinement had any bearing on violence within prison suggesting
there may be other factors influencing aggression in institutional environments other than
personality traits and background.
Additional criticism for the model comes from McCorkle et al who claimed theory
fails to provide suggestions for how best to manage violent behaviour/reduce it in general
therefore it does not have any application in real life situations.
The deprivation model (DM) claims that it is the characteristics of the prison the
individual is placed in that accounts of violence. It is believed that the experience of
imprisonment causes inmates stress and frustration leading to violence. Support for the DM
comes from Harer and Steffensmeir who suggest inmates behave in an aggressive way due
to their difficulties adjusting to the `pain of imprisonment' this includes loss of freedom,
isolation, boredom and loneliness. This is demonstrated by the overcrowding crisis in UK
prisons which forced inmates to share cells this was linked to an increase in interpersonal
violence, self harm and suicide.
McCorkle et al found that overcrowding, lack of privacy and lack of meaningful
activity all significantly influence peer violence in a prison environment. However, these
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Contradictory information comes from Nijman et al who found increased personal
space failed to decrease the level of violent incidents amongst patients in psychiatric
institutions this suggests that whilst the deprivation model may be applicable to prison
environments it may not be relevant to violence in psychiatric institutions.…read more