Institutional aggression in the context of prisons


Dispositional explanation

Irwin + Cressey (1962) - Importation model - suggests prisoners import aggressive tendencies into prison - why rate of violence high. May come from eg genetics, serotonin + T levels. Aggression in prison no diff to how they act outside of institution. Important to consider behaviour outside of prison.

Factors affecting offender both inside + outside - eg dependency/addiction. Can lead to aggressive behaviour, not solve by putting them in prison.

3 prison subcultures:

  • criminal/thief - advocates criminal 'code of honour' eg not telling when inmates commit misdemeanour. Promotes honour, trust etc as key values, members become hardened criminals, repeat offenders. Some aggression.
  • convict - strong power hierarchy. Behaviour about position w/in hierarchy + power. Most likely to be aggressive (exercise power). Those joining often from deprived areas, familiar w/ gang culture.
  • conventional/'straight' - new to prison, likely to be one time offenders. Keep clear of other 2, more in common w/ prison guards. Not generall aggressive.
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Situational explanation

3 specific types of factors that come from environment w/in prison:

  • organisational - influence of rules + regulations. Can prompt aggression due to expectation to follow them.
  • physical - cramped conditions, threatening environment, lack of comfort -> aggression.
  • staff characteristics - attitude + behaviour of staff can prompt aggression eg clash of personalities/unwillingness of offender -> neg reaction from staff -> aggression from staff or inmates.
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Situational - deprivation model

Sykes (1958) - Prison environment increases aggression. Relates to factors before. Loss of key needs eg heterosexual contact + communication -> aggression. 5 types of deprivation that influence behaviour:

  • liberty - no longer allowed to go where they please. Sykes - reinforced feeling of rejection from society, offenders more likely to be aggressive.
  • autonomy - no independence. Expected to confirm. Not even small choices. Feeling of helplessness -> aggression. Withdrawal from privileges, feel angry + powerless.
  • goods + services - access severely restricted eg no mobile phones. Lack of access to phone -> anger, resentment -> aggression + violence.
  • heterosexual relationships - no access to companionship -> frustration -> aggression.
  • security - environment desn't feel safe, fear for personal safety. Feeling of fear -> heightened awareness + defensiveness, could make overreactions to incidents more likely -> aggression.
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Dispositional - strengths

Looks at prisoners in more idiographic way. Work on subcultures nomothetic to some degree, but theory essentially arguing effects of experience + predisposition are individual + can explain well why some offenders violent + some not.

DeLisi et al (2004) - Prison records of 831 US male inmates, relationship between prison violence + membership of street + prison gangs. Relationship between gang membership + prison aggression. Suggests gang values imported into prisons by members. Prisons Inspectorate report of violence (Feltham young offenders' institution) - witnessed gang graffiti in cells, suggest few inmates not gang members.

Kane + Janus (1981) - number violent offences related to history of offender. If previously have lower level ed, more serious criminal record + more time unemployed, more likely to be aggressive + violent once in prison.

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Dispositional - Weaknesses

Influence of gang culture doesn't explain aggression in adults well. Poole + Regoli (1983) - found pre-institutional violence best predictor of inmate aggression in juvenile correction institutions. Finding not replicated in adult prisons I other studies, can't be generalised to explain aggression in all institutions, or to support importation model.

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Situational - Strengths

Maslow's hierarchy of needs supports idea situational effects in prison could lead to aggression in inmates. 1st step (physiological needs) can't be met all time - enforced regime of sleeping + eating, lack of opps to fulfill sexual needs. Safety needs not possible - lack of perceived safety w/in prison. Drive to self-actualisation prevented at basic levels -> neg behaviour.

Johnston (1991) - prison overcrowding -> increased aggression. Greater comp for resources available. Elicits aggression, ciolence inevitable consequence. Formation of gangs to help compete for resources fosters in-group/out-group conflict -> group aggression, Situational factors - situational model.

Haslam + Reicher (2006), mod of Zimbardo's prison study, reported not adoption of prisoner role that affected behaviour, need to be part of group. Suggests prison situation, which enforces need for group behaviour to aid access to resources, reason behindincreased level of violence.

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Situational - Weaknesses

Pison riots. Can flare up w/ no reason. Means situational influence in violent behaviour cannot always be identified, or may not exist. (sometimes are due to withdrawal of privileges, but sometimes no reason, Can support or refute).

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Case for interaction

Jiang + Fisher-Giorlando (2002) - previously reported in importation model research section showed perhaps both types of influence play part in aggression. Research picked up on fact depends on who aggression directed towards that indicates which theory might explain act better.

Aggression to fellow inamtes - situational. Not clear why, but taking apart 2 possible sources not easy. Seems likely both contribute in differing amounds depending on individual act.

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