Prisons are notorious for being filled with violence, defiance, and hostility. For this reason, it is logical to wonder if there is an external factor influencing the prisoners’ behavior and leading them to exhibit so much misconduct. Jolene van der Kaap-Deeder and Elien Audenaert study the possible answers to this question in their article titled, “The internalization of and defiance against rules within prison: The role of correctional officers’ autonomy-supportive and controlling communication style as perceived by prisoners” (2019).
Factors in the prisoners’ environment could play a role in their defiance to prison rules. Van der Kaap-Deeder and Audenaert examine whether the manner in which the prisoners found the prison guards to relay the rules of the prison to them was “autonomy-supportive” or “controlling” (2019). In other words, the prison guards could communicate the rules to the prisoners by explaining why they are important and relevant, which would be characteristic of the autonomy-supportive communication style, or threatening and punishing tactics could be used, which would be considered a controlling style of communication. Furthermore, the study examined the relationship between the communication styles and prisoners’ misbehavior.
Van der Kaap-Deeder and Audenaert hypothesized that there would be a positive relationship between autonomy-supportive communication and adaptive behavior such as cooperating with prison authority. Contrastingly, perceived controlling communication was expected to be positively related to maladaptive behavior such as aggressiveness (2019). In addition, they further predict that autonomy-supportive communication will correlate to a higher degree of internalization of rules in prisoners. On the other hand, perceived controlling communication style is predicted to be correlated to defiance (2019).That is, prisoners are expected to be motivated to follow the rules due to their own acknowledgement that the rule is necessary if the rules are communicated to them in an autonomy-supportive manner.
The data for the study was acquired through questionnaires administered to voluntary participants. According to Van der Kaap-Deeder and Audenaert, most of the participants in the study, “consisted of males (88.5%)…most were convicted (65.0%), with an average sentence length of almost 7 years, while 26.1% was accused…Almost half of the participants (42.0%) had been previously incarcerated (2019). These statistics show that most of the participants had been in prison for several years, so they would be experienced enough to identify the communication style used by the prison officers. As for the results of the study, they found that, “perceived autonomy-supportive communication related positively to quality of life and cooperation and negatively to irritation, whereas perceived controlling communication related positively to aggression and irritation and negatively to cooperation.” Therefore, they were correct in their prediction that there is a positive relationship between autonomy-supportive communication and adaptive behavior.
Overall, it is fair to say that the environment in which the prisoners live in plays a major role in their behavior. The way that the prisoners are treated and communicated with can determine whether or not they follow and internalize the rules of the prison. Van der Kaap-Deeder and Audenaert’s study suggests that there is a positive correlation between autonomy-supportive communication style and adaptive behavior. These findings highlight the fact that prison officers have a big impact on the prison’s atmosphere, so they should keep in mind that communication is key.