- Created by: msahay
- Created on: 05-02-20 11:27
Institutional aggression - aggression that occurs regularly in institutions (e.g. prisons).
There are 2 explanations for institutional aggression:
- Dispositional explanation of institutional aggression - prison violence and aggression is caused by the personal characteristics of prisoners which predispose them to behave this way.
- Situational explanation of institutional aggression - prison violence and aggression is caused by the unpleasant environment and poor conditions of the prison itself.
Dispositional Explanation - Importation Model
The importation model was proposed by Irwin and Cressey.
It suggests that institutional aggression is caused by the prisoners' existing aggressive characteristics which they "import" into the prison once incarcerated.
These characteristics could include:
- biological risk factors (e.g. carrying the short allele of the MAOA gene, increased testosterone levels or damage to the limbic area)
- personality (e.g. antisocial personality disorder)
- experience of aggressive role models (e.g. abusive parents or gang members)
that predispose prisoners to act aggressively and violently.
Importation Model - Gang Membership
One important predisposing factor for institutional aggression is gang membership.
People who belong to gangs learn social norms that reward aggression and violence - this is known as a "code of the streets".
When such people are incarcerated, they "import" these social norms into prison with them, predisposing them to behave aggressively and violently.
Importation Model Support - Mears et al
One strength of the importation model is that it is supported by research.
Mears et al conducted a longitudinal study looking at child participants from deprived areas where there was a high concentration of gangs to investigate which ones joined them.
At adulthood, Mears et al investigated the participants who had ended up in prison and measured their level of violence.
It was found that prisoners who had joined gangs prior to incarceration and believed strongly in a "code of the streets" were more likely to behave aggressively and violently in prison.
This study supports the idea that the gang membership and the social norms it fosters predisposes people to behave aggressively and "import" it into prisons, as suggested by the importation model.
Therefore, Mears et al's research demonstrates support for the dispositional explanation of institutional aggression as the personal characteristics of prisoners (gang membership) was found to be the cause of aggressive and violent behaviour.
Importation Model Support - Kane and Janus
Another strength of the importation model is that it is supported by further research.
Kane and Janus investigated the behaviour of inmates in a prison and also measured their personal characteristics.
They found that a high level of violence prisoners displayed was associated with low levels of education, unemployment and a past history of violence.
This positive correlation between personal characteristics of prisoners and violence in prison supports the idea that prisoners had "imported" predisposing personal characteristics once incarcerated, causing them behave aggressively and giving support to the dispositional importation model.
Situational Explanation - Deprivation Model
The deprivation model was proposed by Sykes.
It suggests that institutional aggression is caused by the unpleasant environment and poor conditions of the prison itself.
Sykes suggested 4 factors that could lead to institutional aggression in innmates:
- Deprivation of security - prisons are full of threatening individuals which can lead to prisoners having heightened awareness so makes them more likely to behave aggressively or violently.
- Deprivation of goods - prisoners are denied basic goods e.g. mobile phones which can cause resentment and so makes them more likely to behave aggressively or violently.
- Deprivation of relationships - prisoners are denied access to family or a partner which causes frustration and makes them more likely to behave aggressively or violently.
- Deprivation of autonomy and liberty - prisoners are denied independence and control over their lives which can cause feelings of helplessness and makes them more likely to behave aggressively or violently.
Situational Explanation - Other Factors
3 additional factors that can contribute to institutional aggression are:
- Noise levels
Situational Explanation Application - HMP Woodhill
One strength of the situational explanation of institutional aggression is that it can be applied to improve existing prisons.
For instance, in the 1990s, David Wilson used the situational explanation to improve the conditions of prisoners at HMP Woodhill.
He reduced overcrowding, introduced music to reduce noisy conditions and controlled the temperature carefully inside the prison.
He found that this virtually eradicated the violent behaviour of the prisoners.
This real-life example supports the situational explanation, in that it supports the idea that to reduce institutional aggression, deprived conditions in prisons should be changed.
High ecological validity
Situational Explanation Support - McCorkle et al
Another strength of the situational explanation is that there is research to support it.
McCorkle et al conducted a correlational study, looking at 371 US prisons.
They found a signficant positve correlation between overcrowding and lack of privacy and the level of violence of prisoners.
This supports the idea that overcrowding and a deprivation of basic needs leads can influence aggression, supporting the deprivation model - a situational explanation of aggression.
Situational Explanation Limitation - Harer + Steff
One limitation of the situational explanation is that a major study of US prions found no correlation between prison conditions and aggressive behaviour.
Harer and Steffensmeier's study of 24,000 US prisoners collected variables related to the prison environment (e.g. security levels and overcrowding) and also the personal characteristics of the prisoners (e.g. criminal history, drug use and age of prisoners)
They found that only the personal characteristics of prisoners predicted the level of violence and aggression in the prison.
These results cast doubt on the idea that it is the unpleasant environment and prison conditions that cause aggression, instead, supporting the dispositional explanation of institutional aggression.
Moreover, this study's large sample size increases its generalisability and thus strengthens its validity as rebuking the situational explanation.
Interactionist Explanation - Jiang + Fisher-Giorla
On the other hand, research also supports a combination of dispositional and situational factors in explaining institutional aggression.
Jiang and Fisher-Giorlando conducted a study looking at 431 reports of violence in a US prison.
They found that the importation model best indicated inmate to inmate violence and that the deprivation model best indicated inmate to staff violence.
This study shows that institutional aggression in prisons can be explained best by an interactionist approach of dispositional and situational factors, and that the importance of the different factors might depend on the type of violence displayed (i.e. whether it is inmate to inmate or inmate to staff).