Positions in the prison subculture

There are distinct types of inmates incarcerated in the nation’s prison systems. They behave differently and hold different positions in the prison subculture (Law. jrank. org nd). Prison personnel who have the experience to recognize the way in which the internal prison system operates can identify them. When the offender arrives in the prison, freshly convicted and sentenced, he or she enters an alien world, different from any they have known on the outside. Different types of prisoners are found in all prison systems, for much like water seeking its own level, so do inmates become what is needed to fill a given niche in any system.

Some of these inmates take on a different personality in an attempt to survive their incarceration and be able to deal with life in the prison community. The guards do not run the prison underground. That is the sole prerogative of the inmate society. Some prisoners become violent with their fellow inmates in a belief that it is the surest way to rise to the top of the inmate pyramid and to assure that no other prisoner will disrespect them or do them any physical harm. The inmate who takes this path must fight regularly to maintain his position.

He fights to assure those around him that he is a ‘bad man’ and should be given a wide berth. This type of inmate most often has a history of fighting and violence. Generally it can be seen that inmates who take this route come from a family background that is steeped in violence and abuse and they have been reared to accept that the strong and powerful are the ones who survive and are not abused. Fear and intimidation are their weapons of choice. The inmate who falls into this category has most likely committed a crime of violence.

He is most likely a murderer, attempted murderer, rapist or abuser of some ilk. It is not likely that such inmates suddenly become violent after incarceration. The violence is what got the prisoner incarcerated in the first place. The virtual opposite of the violent inmate is the opportunist. Inmates such as this take advantage of the prison and use the system to their own benefit. A classic example of this type of inmate will use his incarceration to better himself. He will, for example, take advantage of the educational opportunities and get his GED while serving his sentence.

This type of inmate most often comes from a life of poverty or is disadvantaged in some way. Most often they have wanted to better themselves but could not find the opportunity do to it, whether they lacked the time or the finances. This type of inmate is usually not incarcerated for a crime of violence. Usually they are in prison for going along with a bad crowd and are the least apt to re-offend. They usually get along with the prison staff and do their time without incident. There is an inmate known as the colonizer type.

This inmate is more comfortable in prison than out. “Some colonizers have committed new crimes to return to prison,” (Schmalleger 2005). It is generally accepted that this type of inmate has no family or close friends on the outside. Often they were reared in foster care or have family in prison. This type of inmate most often has committed crimes ranging from drug violation to assault and/or robbery. They are far less violent that the first type of inmate. They are so comfortable around crime that they tend to associate with criminals while out of prison.

These three types of inmates have different needs and represent different levels of threat, both to society and to prison staff. The violence prone inmate is a distinct threat to guards though the other two are not so much. Still they must all be considered dangerous.


Law. jrank. org    Prisons: Inmate Subcultures and Informal Organizations Retrieved 6-12-07 from: http://law. jrank. org/pages/1796/Prisons-Prisoners-Inmate-subcultures-informal-organizations. html Schmalleger, F. CJNOWONLINE. COM Retrieved 6-12-07 from: