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Institutional aggression

Explanations of institutional aggression tends to be considered as occurring due to situational factors, such as aggression stemming from the social situation, or dispositional factors where the aggression may stem from personality factors. Aggression in institutions is a significant problem with high assault rates particularly in prisons. Two explanations are offered for this:The Importation model & Deprivation Model.

The Importation model – Irwin & Cressey claimed that prisoners brought their own social histories and traits with them when entering prisons which influences their adaptation to the prison environment. Prisoners are not seen as “blank slates”when entering the prison and anything they considered normal in the outside world, even if it is violence, will be “imported” into the prison environment.Many pre-existing factors of imprisoned individuals may affect the levels of aggression displayed in prison – for example,alcohol-addiction, race, age etc. Many of the prisoners may be coming from subcultures within society and these may see violence/aggression as something that is valued, respected and therefore reinforced with such attitudes then being imported into the prison setting

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Institutional aggression

Deprivation Model. This model proposes that aggression by prisoners or patients is the product of the stressful and oppressive conditions of the institution itself and the “deprivation” they face within the setting.Sykesargues that aggression comes from the institute itself, and therefore the environment rather than the individuals themselves. He continues to argue that it is daily deprivations which people experience in institutions that cause aggression. He believes the 5 key deprivations which are most important are:Deprivation of Liberty/Freedom, Deprivation of Autonomy, Deprivation of Goods/services, Deprivation of Heterosexual relationships and Deprivation of Security.Such deprivations are argued to lead to increased stress and as a consequence of this some prisoners may behave aggressivelyto reduce stress and obtain resources. Thus aggression in prison may be a means of reclaiming some control for some.

Harer & Steffensmeier collected data from 58 US prisons and found that black inmates had higher rates of violent behaviouryet lower rates of alcohol-related and drug-related misconduct than white inmates.These patterns actually match racial differences within US society and so support the importation model in suggesting such personality traits are imported into the prison settings

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Institutional aggression

However it could be argued that these “groups” may in turn be subjected to more segregation and abuse and thus respond with aggression in defence rather than instigate it within such institutional settings.This could be occurring in both society itself and within institutions explaining this correlation. Therefore we cannot be sure of cause and effect for certain due to this as other unknown variables may be contributing such as persecution from majority racial groups causing the aggression

Irwin and Cressey reported that one-time offenders were perceived by other prisoners as “straights”. This highlights the fact that they reject other more aggressive prisoner subcultures, suggesting that aggression is imported by certain types of inmates.

McCorkle et al found that overcrowding, lack of privacy and the lack of any meaningful activity all increased levels of peer violence supporting the deprivation model.

However a study by Nijman et al found that increased personal space given to psychiatric patients in institutions did little to decrease levels of violent incidents among patients. It is possible though that the psychiatric problems such patients suffered from could have been acting as confounding variables to this however.

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Institutional aggression

Furthermore, Kane and Janus et al found that long periods of unemployment, lower levels of education and a more serious criminal record correlated positively with a greater likelihood of aggression while imprisoned. This shows pre-existing factors within prisoners affect levels of aggression displayed within the prison settings supporting the importation model theory.

Issues, Debates and Approaches

Nature vs Nurture Debate:- Some explanations see aggression as a product of innate personality traits that are imported into prisons and thus due to nature. Other explanations see the environment of the prison setting as contributing to aggression and thus highlighting the role of “nurture”.

Gender Bias: - Studies into institutional aggression can be seen as having gender bias as they have almost exclusively focused mainly on male prisoners are may very well have different profiles to female prisoners. For example female prisoners are often seen as establishing strong bonds with other members of their social group (other prisoners) rather than identify with prison subcultures. Therefore the explanations for female aggression occurring in prisons may be different to those offered for male prisoners.

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Deterministic: – Both models ignore the role of free will people have and ability of conscious thought in managing their own behaviours. Both models assume aggression is made likely with personality factors or environmental factors pre-disposing individuals to violent behaviour however this is not always the case.

Methodological problems: - Much prison aggression has little explanation for it making it difficult to conduct research and draw firm conclusions. Light et al found that 25% of prison assaults had no apparent reason behind them and Goffman et al reported that prisoners often attempted to hide their reasons behind aggressiveactions. Therefore due to the methodological problems associated with measuring such institutional aggression; drawing scientific and measurable conclusions becomes difficult.

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