Relationships within prisons

In contrast to this, importionalist theories stress the connections between relationships within prisons and those outside-for example changes in political expectations or legal culture (Morgan, 1997, p. 1178). They believe that the individual roles which are adopted in prisons are simply "extensions of subcultures of which they are part of before being incarcerated" (Irwin, 1970, p. 178). That the 'inmate code' is an accurate reflection of the criminal code existing in the wider society and that it is brought in by the inmates themselves.

This would explain why there is group solidarity between some prisoners within prisons and suggests that this 'convict' or 'criminal' subculture is both an extension of street cultures and an adaption in response to the contingencies of life outside (Morgan, 1997, p. 1178). At the core of both of these theories lies the belief that, regardless of where these cultures originate from, there is a distinctive culture within prisons which sees prisoners and guards developing categorically specific roles.

There have been many studies which observe the relationships between prisoners and guards and the conclusion from one study at Stanford University in 1970 concluded that "the mere act of assigning labels to people and putting them into a situation where those labels acquire validity and meaning is sufficient to elicit pathological behaviour" (Zimbardo, 1982, p. 249).

They went on to express that, "the prison situation, as presently arranged, is guaranteed to generate severe enough pathological reasons in both guards and prisoners as to debase their humanity, lower their feelings of self-worth and make it difficult for them to be part of society outside prison" (Zimbardo, 1982, p. 249). This conclusion shares a similar basis to that of the 'labelling theory' which is also believed to play a part in explaining why some criminals become ingratiated into a 'convict code' and possibly go on to re-offend upon release from prison.

Some studies reveal that by simply labelling someone as 'criminal' and placing them within the prison regime is enough to inspire further criminal behaviour (Haralambos, 1991, p. 610). Much of the labelling theory comes from the general sociological perspective known as 'symbolic interaction theory' (Haralambos, 1991, p. 611) which states that reality is, to a large degree, defined by shared social symbols.

If labelling theory is correct then an essential area which needs to be tackled, in order to lower crime rates, is to change the way society interacts with criminals, including those released from prison, to avoid these stigmatised labels from sticking. In light of these particular theories it could be assumed quite accurately that prison can, in fact, make "bad people worse".

The peculiar and distinctive prison culture coupled with the 'criminal' labels and the opportunities to mix with other, more hardened criminals, all act together as a 'breeding ground' for further criminal activity which could possibly be avoided if dealt with in the community. There are many other reasons which suggests that prison is no longer an effective form of punishment, in any kind of rehabilitative terms, and even more suggestions as to why it is actually a highly detrimental consequence.

The issue of drugs in British prisons is one, which is at the forefront of its many problems and one which is highly indicative that the statement 'prison makes bad people worse' could, in fact, be very true. Jonathan Aitken (2004) said recently of his firsthand experience behind bars that "prisons are no longer just colleges for crime but they are also breeding grounds for drug addiction" (p. 1).

There is a high concentration of drug use and dependence in the prison population today and studies reveal that the much needed mandatory drug testing (MDT) programme has only served to increase the use of harder drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, in place of the more easily detectable use of cannabis (Gore, Bird & Ross, 1966, p. 98). The issue of drugs is an ever-increasing problem for the prison service and one, which is exceedingly difficult to tackle.

If prisoners are entering the regime with a low drug dependency, or no drug problems at all, and are leaving with more severe or new drug problems due to the exposure and availability within the system, then this is a very substantial argument which is clearly in favour of the fact that, 'Yes-prison can make people worse'. Prison is a stigmatising and demoralising institution, which cuts ties with employment and families and offers little in terms of effective rehabilitation.

Offenders increasingly struggle to gain employment upon release and as noted by Western, (1999) "are likely to develop certain attitudes, mannerisms and behavioural practices that 'on the inside' function to enhance survival but are not compatible with success in the conventional job market" (p. 6). It is common for inmates to become 'institutionalised' within the prison environment and struggle with many aspects of life upon release, feeling 'out of place' and having difficulty readjusting to society outside.

It is therefore essential that prisons look more closely at how they rehabilitate and prepare inmates for life after their sentence has been served. This is no easy task but one which could be made a lot easier by the use of effective community sentences. It is true, for most people, that there is a certain category of offenders whose crimes are of such magnitude that isolation is a 'must' but surely the use of custody should be restricted to these cases alone (Brownlee, 1998, p. 193).

And surely outside of these exceptions we need to make use of the "graduated system of realistic, demanding and constructive community sentences (Morris & Tonry, 1999, p. 224) which offer punishment alongside the opportunity for rehabilitation and change. If the government is committed to 'what works' as its guide for criminal justice policy and crime reduction, then it must bite the bullet and face down public ignorance and vindictiveness which places prison as the main punitive measure, and all else as 'soft options' (Graef, 2001, p.2).

The only way that the prison service will ever be able to work effectively with those who really do need to be incarcerated is if they are relieved of the disastrous burden of those who could be dealt with effectively and far less expensively in the community. "Prison makes bad people worse" is fast becoming a very truthful and accurate statement and it highlights a problem which is only going to get worse if something is not done to stop the ever rising population within our country.