Prisonization of Inmates in the Prison Environment

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Incarceration has the ability to change a person’s behaviour through a process called prisonization. Prisonization is a process whereby inmates adopt “folkways, mores, customs, and general culture of the inmate”. An inmate subculture is an informal social system which strengthens certain principles and norms. It has been found that deprivation, importation and inmate self concepts are possible theories to explain the influences of prisonization. According to Haney (2001), prisonization brings about interpersonal distrust, suspicion and hypervigilance. In prison subculture, many try to benefit from the weak or ill-treat the absent-minded. This makes them be wary for signs of danger. Inmates tend to psychologically distance and isolate themselves as showing signs of vulnerability will most definitely lead to exploitation. To avoid exploitation, some prisoners learn to project a tough and aggressive demeanour to keep others at a distance from them. Even the expression of candid emotions or intimacy is disapproved by the inmate subculture. Some may even develop emotional numbing that becomes a hindrance in social interaction and relationships. This can lead to a self-inflicted isolation and segregation which can affect them negatively even after prison where they can no longer create meaningful and strong relationships with others such as their family and friends.

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The deprivation model talks about how similar deprivations which are the loss of liberty, autonomy, goods and services, heterosexual relationships and security faced by the majority of inmates would result in them trying to solve these problems together as a whole. By doing so, an inmate society forms, “a society that includes a network of positions, which reflect various types and levels of commitment to subcultural norms as well as adaptive reactions to the problems of confinement...”. The pain of incarceration imposes a threat on the individual’s character. Prisonization then becomes a process that helps inmates manage with these deprivations. The importation model refers to the adaptation and adjustment of prison life which are introduced from preprison characteristics of inmates such as their education, employment, relationships and previous imprisonment. This model highlights the impacts that preprison interaction and life events can have on the inmate social system. Preprison experiences, particularly those taking criminal principles and personalities of the inmates influence the extent of integration into the inmate subculture. Through this model, one’s adaptation and acceptance to the inmate system is developed by his/her socialization before imprisonment.

Having a self-concept refers to the inmates having the desire to preserve or enhance it. The three self motivations are categorized as self-evaluation, self-efficacy and identity salience. The self-evaluation or self-esteem motive refers to the motivation to perceive oneself positively and behave in a manner to preserve it. The self-efficacy motive refers to the extent in which inmates believe they have the ability to change and influence the environment and the people around them. As a dimension of self-concept, self-efficacy refers to how inmates form an idea that they themselves have the power to control their own life. A third important self-motive is identity salience which explains what roles are significant to the individual and how these roles apply in the prison setting.

Previous western literature reports that deprivation is the most suitable & applicable model out of the three. In order to explain prisonization in a better manner using importation model, the importation variables and deprivation variables had to be combined. In order to better understand and analyse the results from Singaporean context, both Western and Singaporean inmate subcultures will be needed to compare.

Comradeship in American prisons is defined as the perception and perspective of a division between inmates themselves and the prison authorities or other inmates. The inmate subculture highlights oppositional values to the public in general, to prison authorities and those involved with them. There is an increasing lack of trust towards prison staff. Main factors to the lack of trust are sexual relationships, sexual favours and the lack to act on harassment towards inmates. Being in a sexual relationship with guards or/and appeasing to their sexual needs will ensure extra benefits that others cannot get. This suggests that the prison authorities are unable to be objective and fair which leads to high levels of mistrust. Inmates believe that they should have a stoic demeanor at all times, not showing any emotions such as distress, worriedness and misery.

There is also a general idea among inmates that they should not associate themselves in other people’s issues because it is considered as gossip, a feminine act. Previous literature states that the importation model is more applicable in the Singaporean context. In particular, the prisoners would “import their gang culture in the prison”. These gangs are exclusively to inmates of similar ethnicity. Similar to their western counterparts, Singaporean inmates also value masculine characteristics. However, these behaviours serve as an advantage for them to climb the social ladder/hierarchy in the prison.

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