At no time in the modern era has the concern over incarceration–its purpose and consequences–been so prevalent and urgent. This has been quite clear from the amount of legislative action in progress and from the statistics about escalating crime, institutional proceedings, and recidivism. As such, and because of this, the entire systematic process–from criminal apprehension to discharge–has been questioned. This has included the vast psychological and sociological aspects of the problem. This article, however, will be confined mostly to the essential process of incarceration.
Basically, incarceration, as conducted by the correctional authorities has served three purposes: (1) protective (shielding society from the criminal) (2) punitive (making the criminal pay for crimes committed.) and (3) rehabilitative (stimulating and encouraging the criminal to exhibit more law abiding conduct and individual development). To officials, these areas have been social prerogatives whereas to most inmates, they have been social hypocrisy. This has been a result of the inmate viewing society not as an abstract whole but rather as individual people (some, if not most, criminal minded as he) who are not always deserving of legal protection. The distinction has been the basis of a serious ideological problem between incarcerated inmates and facility officials.
A more serious attitudinal problem has been that of the punitive versus the rehabilitative purpose. The mere name, correctional services, brings to mind the rehabilitation, but the actual process has demonstrated his life. To be sure, he does view it as a learning process–not as honest, constructive, learning, but as a protective shield against others and the law.
Although an inmate’s conduct during incarceration is determined by his ideological outlook and attitudinal development, the above tendencies are somewhat distinct. They are a projection of his individual ideology and attitude, and not an encompassing facet. It is precisely because of this that the problem–for it is a problem–becomes philosophical and is beyond the scope of the correctional mandate to rectify.
After establishing his criteria, the inmate continuously realizes their insufficiency to put him in good stead. He finds himself frequently rebuffed and often punished when he tries to project and assert his peculiar brand of combative. Gradually, he realizes that there is some essence common to all prisoners and that it does not always reside in horror stories he has heard. It is at this point the inmate’s education and maturity (social and personal) is crucial to his stability.
The officers–not being inmates, and somewhat more educated and socially developed–know this essential nature vaguely but can never know it explicitly. Hence they are unable to assist the inmate, and are forced sometimes to compound the problem.
A third area of influence on the inmate is his views towards other inmates. This outlook is affected more by his personal character and his criteria than by the general ideological and attitudinal characteristics of inmates as a whole. The perception of inmate is so impressive that it could well be the most powerful factor in (Note:text missing/ illegible)
Accordingly, he is led to view the inmate, not as a singular entity, but as an abstract criminal species. Though again, as a person, he might–and sometimes does–make careful distinctions.To be eligible for such distinctions, an inmate has to demonstrate a high and consistent degree of maturity in accordance with the officer’s personal standards. This can happen over a period of years or a few months, and can have a great influence on the inmate. He can lose his sweeping bias against all officers or he can recognize personal characteristics in himself worthy of an officer’s consideration. Still, however, he may continue to hold a negative opinion of the general attitude of officers.
Whatever credible development can be derived from such an officer’s attitude towards an inmate, when it is weighed against the overwhelming attitude of the inmates, one conclusion is certain: the inmate, and not the officer, is the one who must come to terms with the other’s position.
It is this ideological and attitudinal difference which affects and determines the inmate’s initial conduct during incarceration. The problem will always remain fundamental and permanent unless a great educational effort is launched by the authorities to eradicate that stigma.
By this, the inmate may be encouraged to better understand his situation and may derive a more rewarding experience. This understanding will be also conveyed to his family, and will be manifested upon his re-entry into society. The authorities too will be able to bask in the positive reflection of such an educational effort.
Following upon this problem is another of major importance. This one, though, is due mainly to the inmate’s education and maturity. It is the inmate’s traditional perception of prison and incarceration. Since this problem is more a philosophical one, it is not easily explained. Nevertheless, because of its continuing preoccupation by inmates, it is important to illuminate it.
An inmate is designated to a specific facility based upon his criminal history or instant offence or he can be transferred to one based upon his institutional conduct. For obvious reasons, whether it be upon his designation or subsequent transfer, an inmate is affected (positively or negatively) by his designation. Eventually, though, when he compares the facilities, he is hard-pressed to draw a substantial difference. The inmate tends to view the severity or relaxedness of a prison based upon numerous criteria: food, living-quarters, recreational provisions, and attitude of officers. He thinks of prison in terms of ‘greens’ (clothes), cells, status, and his ability to weave around the system. On these terms, he creates an idea of smug satisfaction, which enables him to maintain some semblance of dignity. All this is to counter those frightening stories he has heard about prison. Consequently, and already suffering from the ideological and attitudinal differences, he is bent upon adherence to his criteria. So far, he has not once looked at the full scope and impact of incarceration on determining an inmate’s disposition during incarceration.
Foremost, among the reasons for this is that each inmate falls within ideological sphere (that is, they were and are possible victims of crimes themselves, and as such, would be deserving of legal protection), and by extension would be social hypocrites. Conversely, the inmate paradoxically views himself as the only possible and actual victim (of both social and illegal crimes). There are many gray areas between and over, the ideological and attitudinal aspects of this third problematic area, but it would not be erroneous to say that they all culminate into three categories: (1) projection (personality), (2) expression (status), and (3)competition (official treatment). It is in this way that the inmate’s personal character and his criteria become evident.
PROJECTION- since Prison is primarily an exercise ground of observation; an inmate’s personality (rightly or wrongly) is quickly established–by the officials as well as by the other inmates. This observation is conducted even before the inmate awakens from his initial passivity and consciously begins to project his own personality. It serves the purpose of secondary status, expression being the first.
EXPRESSION-The establishing of this status is extremely important to an inmate. He is in possession of personal mean with which to demonstrate this: physique, personal possessions, degree of crime, free world affiliations, and institutional cliquing. These attributes are utilized to promote and establish the primary status of most inmates. Education is also an important criteria for status, but is usually not sufficient by itself. It has to be linked with a forceful personality and a sound understanding of every category.
COMPETITION- For most inmates, going home or being granted certain release privileges (work-release, furlough, or even clemency) is of paramount importance. Because of this, the inmates every move is tempered by that knowledge. A great convert game of maneuvers is constantly played among inmates. The resulting official treatment is looked upon as a reflection of his worth. Sometimes, there is a conflict, and the projection and expression areas intervene and disrupt the competition. When this occurs, the inmate is punished because the disruption means some sort of violation.
The other reason in this same third problematic area is peer pressure. If prison can be correctly termed an exercise ground of observation, then it is also a place of severe loneliness. It is such that the inmate is akin to the drowning man grasping for a straw, except that in this instance he is grasping for a friend–any friend. The very same type of friends (in the free world) the inmate derides for neglecting and forsaking him are the same type with which he associates himself. Yet, he knows that the association is not a positive one and will most likely interfere with his own competition. So the inmate, seeking to overcome his loneliness often sacrifices his position in the competition, and will frequently do so. Of all the interesting and engaging concerns in prison life, this is probably the most puzzling.
Lastly, an inmate’s financial position (or sexual persuasion) can dictate his affiliations. They all fall within the category of inmate to inmate perception and can affect the inmate’s conduct profoundly. This last area, however, is a problem which falls within jurisdiction and capacity of the authorities to rectify.
Three observations are the most prominent in establishing the foundation of an inmates conduct throughout his sentence. The alterations which may develop in an inmates mind during incarceration will still conform to those categories. So then, these categories can be said to be prerequisites for an inmate. Every single aspect of prison life–from outlooks on officials, civilians, other inmates, and programs, will be based on those prerequisites.
Now, with this in mind, the very first concern of an inmate is to establish the character of the officials. This he divides into four categories: (1) regular officers–C.O.’s (2) Senior officers–sergeants to lieutenants (3) captains to superintendents, and (4) the commissioner’s office. The parole board is included somewhat, but with a distinctive character.
Regular Officers- As the inmate is in constant contact with the officer, he develops an acute psychological picture of him. It is sort of a love/hate relationship complete with transference (a Freudian psychiatric term where the patient transfers his mingled, misunderstood emotional conflicts to the analyst). On the one hand he is the chief oppressor, yet with the slightest considerate gesture he elicits respect and even love from the inmate. These slight gestures, though not always deliberate, elicit love because the inmate is usually thirsty for love. Likewise, his loathing for orders is almost violent. He translates the officers directions as corpse-like obedience. He disregards the fact that the officers directives are enforcements of institutional policy. To be sure, most are, but the inmate sees (sometimes rightly) a critical difference between institutional policy and the officer’s personal policy.
It is evident and natural for a correction-officer to develop a personal system of operation quite independent of the institutional policy. He views his personal system in light of his vested mandate. His purpose is to enforce discipline and eliminate recklessness- to him, inherent in the criminal mentality. He is a servant of society and the inmate is a despoiler of society. It is in this sense that the ideological clash between inmate and officers exists.
Senior officers– A sergeant is not held in much higher esteem than the officer. He is more or less a confederate and sometimes mediator of indeterminate status. He is not an initiator or direct enforcer of directives. A lieutenant, however, is automatically accorded respect based upon length of service and implied education and understanding.
Officials: Captains-Superintendents–The respect accorded these officers is almost a sort of awe. Though they are the ones through whom most institutional directives are passed, they are, for the most part, absolved of blame and contempt. The inmate views them as the epitome of law and order and secretly admires, and even envies them. The superintendent himself is not accorded much recognition other than a detached figurehead. Captains and deputy superintendents are the ones who possess the real power, according to the inmate. But the ranks between captain and superintendent are the ones that possess the real power, according to the inmate. But the ranks between captain and superintendent are collectively viewed as the Administration. Even when seemingly oppressive directives are passed, it is the officers who are held as scoundrels for their enforcement.
Commissioner’s Officer–The officials in the commissioner’s office have no definite status. They do not seem to directly affect the inmate’s daily life in prison. They are a sort of secret conspirator from whom the administration draws its strength. They are there, enclosed in their haven, alien and secure. An inmate corresponds with them in the same way that a human being says a prayer to God. But when they do deign to appear in a facility, their deification is diminished; then they appear inhumane. It is as though they have come to gloat over the at the inmate’s misery. When they appear and leave, though, there is this feeling that something has occurred, but the inmate is never certain what that something is. All in all, the commissioner’s office does not figure prominently in an inmate’s conception of real prison life.
To understand these categories, and the inmate’s outlook on them is incorporated if one is to understand the inmate. The conglomeration of loneliness, pressure, emotional conflicts, and stress (stress factor of a prison sentence is 63% percent, same as that of death) that the inmate endures is amazing. Every area has its peculiar contributive factor and is considered continuously by the inmate. Unable to understand the categories thoroughly, he attributes arbitrary significance to those which his experience and observation are suited to understand. It is an interesting mingling of concepts and ideas.
Once he establishes in his own mind, the character of the administration, he sets about developing a plan of operation or modus operandi. He considers all the operational areas (ideological, attitudinal, personal character and criteria–projection, expression, and competition–and administrative character) and develops a strategy. This strategy may change from time to time but this is so only when the personal character is affected. The fundamental ideological and attitudinal influence remains the same; so too, does the administrative characterization.
This period is not an easy one for the inmate. He is never fully optimistic of his strategy, yet, for the most part, he adheres to it. In light of his uncertainty, a conflict arises between his projection (personality) and that of his strategy. For, though his main conception of the administration remains the same, it is important that his strategy corresponds with his personality. The problem, however, is that his personality is always fluctuating (i.e., ‘fronting’ or ‘perpetuating a fraud’ in prison parlance.) He seeks approval from both his fellow inmates and the administration, and is not sure which of them should take procedure. He never really feels the approval of officials and the shaky approval of other inmates is never wholeheartedly accepted. He senses, however, that the administrative approval is somewhere, and that it is much more important than that of the inmates. Because of this, his strategy, which has not yet reached the full stage of completion, is forever being formulated. It gives way to personality and submittance to peer pressure.
In the inmates adaptation to prison life, he finds himself continuously reassuring all the categories previously noted. He finds them forever shifting as the various characteristics of prison come to light. The tenents upon which he has formed his outlook never remain the same, but ironically, he forces his subsequent ideas to conform to them. To him, whatever improved ideas he may form, are merely temporary and illusionary. They are part of the grand strategy of punishment: cause a person to feel comfortable, then confront him with the realities of the situation–prison! guard! convict! Constantly aware of this, no amount of reformed ideas can alter the inmates previously formed characterization of incarceration.
He may, on the other hand, allow some reformed ideas to seep in and influence his deepest thoughts. But still, in submitting to peer pressure, he keeps them from his actual disposition. Even if the new, positive ideas become slightly evident in his disposition, they will be repressed by a furious drive of peer pressure. It takes an inmate who has a profound desire to assert what he knows to be truly right to withstand the force of peer pressure.
Although this issue causes serious problems for the officials and the inmates, it is difficult and probably impossible to have it eliminated. The alternative of intense and continuous social and psychological screening of inmates is to elaborate and costly to even contemplate. An honest education campaign designed to stimulate and encourage inmate awareness and understanding is an effort worthy of consideration. This has to come from the officials, and should be done with sincerity and magnanimity.
The next step for an inmate is his assignment to a program. Depending on the facility, there is a variety of programs to which an inmate can easily be assigned. The one which deserves chief attention is the education program. It is a program of obviously high volume and is accessible to all inmates. There are college courses for the more schooled inmates and Adult Basic Education for the less schooled.
Most inmates believe that the school is the only area in prison where some genuine concern exists. They feel that teachers–as opposed to counselors and even priests–serve a real purpose. In that academic area, they recognize a deficiency in their lives and accept the services as an attempt to rectify that; general prison directives they view as oppressive and punitive. The vocational services, important also, are not viewed as genuinely rehabilitative. Rather, it is seen as a slavish service for the prison and because of such an attitude, inmates fail to obtain the maximum benefit from them. Not only that, but the period of time an inmate spends in a vocational program can dictate what he learns, whereas in the academic program, there is this sense of achievement regardless of the duration. Moreover, an inmate has an opportunity to continue in an academic program in any facility, but he is not sure to do so in the vocational programs. In addition to all this, the male instructors who run the vocational shops are thought of as quasi officers.
There are many reasons why inmates feel a close affinity for the schools and their teachers, but one stands out. In the free world, many inmates were once relatively established family men. They had wives, children, jobs, and homes to which they attended. In many instances, they had no reasons to write or read. To some, life was just a blur of events; to others, life was a bunch of experiences dealt with in a furtive, concealed manner. From the moment they were arrested, however, their illiteracy became clear and was an obstacle to them in their legal proceedings. Once in the prison system, it became more pronounced an in urgent need of attention. They found themselves confronted with numerous reasons for communication. There were letters to write to family and friends, lawyers and courts, and institutional correspondence. For many, this was the first time they were faced with such a dilemma.
So now the school offers an opportunity whereby they can amelionate this deficiency. And even though to many inmates some teachers might not be personally interested in them, they are obligated to teach; and where teaching is present, some learning occurs. The schools, therefore, can be said to be a commendable service in prison. Yet this still fails to eliminate the punitive stigma of prison, for instead of viewing the academic services as deliberately rehabilitative, the inmate sees it as incidental. According to him, the officials have brought about the educational system mainly to lessen the terrible realities of punishment in prison life.
The direct contrast to the esteemable opinion of the academic services is the almost contemptible one in which the counseling unit is held. Counselors are the ones of whom guidance is expected. They are the ones to whom concerns and problems should be told. They are the ones with whom an inmate is supposed to share his deepest concerns. Instead, they function as a detached group of bureaucratic scoffers, feigning attention but basically unconcerned. They appear more as a sort of clerical arm of the administration than as a counseling unit.
Retrospectively though, it can be said that inmates expect too much personal service from them and disregard to the true, inevitable position of those counselors. They are not an independent cadre of counselors, but a coordinative department of the correctional department. Their job is not to accommodate inmates but to facilitate the mountainous flow of paperwork which builds up from the inmates’ many institutional concerns. They do the work for which the average officer is not academically trained. Though their function is subordinate to that of even the lowliest officer, they are in a position to rise higher in rank than the officer.
In addition to all this, their job is not an easy one. They are overloaded by huge caseloads, never-ending paperwork, and constant and diverse inmate problems. With such constrictions, it is difficult to function efficiently and be held in high esteem. Still, it appears that by the very nature of those constrictions, they are afforded a reason whereby they can avoid striving to be innovative and brilliant.
From the inmates’ view, the counseling unit is the first psychological confrontation. They are led to believe that a receptacle and a conduit exist where they can deliver and have their woes dealt with, but they are instead met with detached tolerance. To them, it is yet another demonstration of the grand strategy of punishment–only this time there is a new addition: aloneness! Why? For there is no one, strictly repeating, with whom he can share and speak to about, his problems.
This incident intensifies his distrust of the administration to the point of bitterness. He is somehow conscious that the counselors work within a restricted framework and are bound on both ends by the administration. But here the ideological and attitudinal problems emerge again. If it is expected of him, the inmate, to improvise on his behavior and function progressively, it should be expected also of everyone–especially, in this case, the counseling unit.
This unit serves a vital purpose for both the administration and the inmates, and is a key area wherein the department can effect some much needed character changes. Counselors should participate more in inmate program assignment, and be able to ensure the same placement upon transfer. They should be instrumental in removing institutional restrictions when eligible inmate request certain services i.e transfer, work release, etc. The department of Corrections could benefit by exploring more effective ways in which to use their coordinative arm.
Among the problems rampant in prison life and which is in dire need of attention is the inmate payroll system. Manual programs are already viewed as slave labor by practically all inmates. This is not unusual as most inmates have never had meaningful employment histories. This, though, is not the primary reason for the slave labor opinion. There is a prevalent rumor throughout all prisons that their labor is somehow connected to big business. So inmates have a tendency to compare their program wages to production of their labor and to feel severely cheated. They feel that their mere incarceration is sufficient punishment without further being cheated of their wages. Then, to make matters worse, there is a continual problem with receiving full and punctual wages. This issue is very serious and the underlying cause of many institutional unrest. The official excuses of computer error does nothing to appease the inmates. Such an excuse does not absolve the computer operators. Some of the ways this problem manifests itself is in absenteeism, disrespect to the program supervisors, stealing, and a general lassitude of disposition. The authorities should recognize this issue as problematic and should make a prompt effort to have it rectified. The consequences of failing to do so will mean more and intensive bitterness and needless rebellious thoughts by inmates.
Commendable but inneffective as concessions, the Department of Correctional Service’s institutional inmate organizations fulfill a valuable service in that they allow specific inmates to expend energy on positive projects. These organizations cause the inmates to feel responsible and involved in something of importance. The organizations are substantially ineffective because the guidelines within which they are formed do not afford them growth and expansion. They will always remain institutional organizations–an indication of administrative concession but never a reflection of inmate accomplishment.
This area deserves much more professional attention. The organizations need an infusion of encouragement above that presently given it. They can be developed into effective conduits whereby the administration can conduct a positive public relation campaign.
Of all the areas of concern to an inmate, none occupies his mind as much as the parole board. No single body of people is speculated about more than the parole board. The mere mention of the name is like a Damocles sword, forever hanging over the inmates head, dictating his every move in prison.
The parole-based board is on the opposite end of the spectrum of the sentencing court. The sentencing judge sentences when the suspect is usually resigned to his fate. The expectation of the paroles board decision is never so clear-cut. There is no pattern with which to equate the boards decisions. They are totally devoid of logic, and is a vexing situation for the inmate.
At his preparation for his board appearance, the inmate finally realizes–gets a glimpse rather–the essential nature of incarceration. He sees it not as the old judgment of his crime but as a judgment of his maturity and conduct. The sum total of his experience in prison is about to be tested. Am I prepared? he asks himself. Unlike the court of his sentencing, there is no attorney, no motions, only his probationary report. That probationary report is the accumulated experience he has gathered. How the parole board will judge that report is the object of his speculation.
The parole board itself, is aware of its awesome power and uses it with deliberate effect. That effect, however, is lessened during the essential process of incarceration. There is no doubt that the purpose of the Department of Corrections is at a crossroads. To say that it rehabilitates inmates in that it punishes inmates in contradictory. In fact, to attribute any sort of accomplishment to the Department is nonsensical, as the statistics of recidivism will state. It is an enigmatic situation.
The Department has to take the initiative and be bold in its attempts to rehabilitate criminals. It has to be innovative and insightful and implement effective and constructive measures. In the eyes of society, in the eyes of law makers; in the eyes of inmates, and in its own eyes, the Department is a failure. Yet, it is a necessary institution.
The inmate, meanwhile, is accessible to change. He recognizes the need within himself to change. He will welcome change if only that ideological and attitudinal attitude can be altered. As a physically helpless ward of the Department of Corrections, the inmates mind is free for stimulation and encouragement to positive development. The Department is in a unique position to better serve society by stimulating and encouraging that development. It has to shed that traditional image of fear and mistrust; that aristocratic-like stature of the guardian of society. It has to be accountable to society. The Department has to begin asking whether it can be trust itself to present society with decent human beings or whether it will continue churning out a new social order–that of the poor, the neglected, the forlorn, the frustrated, the bitter, and the disappointed inmate.