The Psychological Effects of Prisons
“I have visited some of the best and the worst prisons and have never seen signs of coddling, but I have seen the terrible results of the boredom and frustration of empty hours and pointless existence”
-former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger
“If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 out of every 20 persons (5.1%) will serve time in a prison during their lifetime.
-U.S. Department of Justice
One of the largest problems with the prison issue in America today is that it gets little attention. Unlike education, pollution or gun control people are usually not concerned enough to get involved with the problem until it happens to someone they love or themselves. Many people don’t realize that the U.S. in on the same level as third world and totalitarian nations in it’s practices of corrections, according to some activists. The prisons in the U.S. are in severe default of the international laws on human rights and cruelty. The facts have been proven true in studies done by the UN. Guards are now known to perform acts of violence on inmates that are sometimes more severe than the crime that put the inmate in prison. In one article about the harshness of the correction officers a former inmate describes one of the beatings of another inmate as one of the worst beatings he’d ever seen. “The assistant Warden grabbed his testicles and starts yanking on them”. ” At least fifty guys got in on it maybe more”. (Prison Activist Resource Center, 1)
The more and more I open my eyes and read about prison conditions the more I realize that they are concentration camps in the sense that a abnormal number of people are concentrated and tortured within its confines. In a lab test done on rats, the rodents that were confined closer together were much more hostile that the ones that were given enough space to feel comfortable. This study represents a parallel to the behavior found in incarcerated humans. Jails cause the same psychological side effects as prisons, to a smaller degree, in the effects of being en-caged, however, the overall standard of living in jails is much higher. There is a decent relationship between the guards and the jailers. The jailers are allowed to interact with the same people on their ‘block’ between “lockdown” times. Lock-down is when the jailers are confined to their cells, usually at night and for a short while in the day, during a change of shift. This method allows inmates to play cards, watch TV together and at very least walk around something else besides their cell. The prison system, however, usually remains in lockdown all the time, although they can speak to each other, they usually can’t see each other without a mirror. Observing these two methods, and what little problems there are in jails as opposed to prisons leads me to believe that if you treat a human being like a human being they will act like a human being. If you lock them in a cage all day they may as well act like an animal. (Prison Activist Resource Center, 1-3)
People sometimes argue this case stating that the offenses committed by jailers are less serious than by prisoners and that prisons are more hostile because they house the more serious offenders. These people forget that jails hold people before they are sentenced to prison, and that a large percentage of jailers will eventually be imprisoned when their case is settled. To sum it up, most jailers are soon-to-be prisoners, so why is it that their behavior is so much more human in jail than prison? The answer is the way that they are treated in prisons. It is an informal policy that guards must be extremely authoritative to the inmates and can be removed from working at a facility even for making small talk with prisoners. This policy doesn’t exist in jails. The idea upheld in prisons is that by running a tight ship they have more control over the prisoners. The truth is that it makes the prisoners more hostile.
The only thing found to be more damaging to an inmate’s behavior is the use of control units. This is otherwise known as solitary confinement. A prisoner is locked in their cell all day long with no contact with other inmates or guards. New prisons in the south now have remote control doorways and video cameras to take the person from place to place. Thus making the job of the guards safer by not escorting prisoners, however, this means that a prisoner in a control unit now literally can go years without contact with another human being. The idea of less contact with prisoners has come from the increasing number of assaults on prison guards in the past 10 years. However, most of the assaults are coming from maximum-security prisons with control units. Control units which all started roughly ten years ago. It is clear to see the parallel in human behavior in this situation. The higher the level of ‘security’ or detainment, however you look at it, the more violent the inmates. A clear example of this theory is a prison in Indiana called ‘Marion’. It was bumped up to the highest level security prison in the country in the late seventies. Shortly thereafter it became the most violent facility throughout the nation. (From Alcatraz to Marion, control unit prisons, 5) As the idea of detainment of prisoners for “security purposes” has swept the country the number of assaults on prison staff has risen from 175 in 1991 to 906 in 1993. (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2)
Looking at my theory of human behavior in prisons, I find support for my opinion from a different point of view. In the early 1900’s a jail/prison in Montpelier, Vermont had designed a program that had practically let inmates come and go as they please. They were not forced to wear a uniform. They are not supervised out in the town. They are free to spend the day doing as they please. The plan originated in the idea that jailers could leave for the day to do work. When the idea was proposed the townspeople were scared that murderers and thieves were free out on the streets like everybody else. In the beginning a couple of inmates (out of 800) tried to escape and were punished with a longer sentence. However, the rest understood the rules of the game and were grateful to be treated like a human again, they returned to jail everyday at their declared time and served their sentence. All the while morals were being taught to the prisoners and they cooperated with the system like professionals. (Swift, 1-14)
The ideas expressed in this paper represent the basic laws of human behavior being applied to the incarceration of people. The prison industry is a negative, but rapid-growing advancement. It does create more jobs, however, it changes the attitudes of the people working in prisons. Anyone working in a facility will tell you it is not a happy place to be. I’ve witnessed for myself on a tour of Great Meadows maximum-security correctional facility the coldness of the employees. The corrections industry is the fastest growing industry in the country today. The sad part is it’s an industry based on the torturing of other human beings. The reason it is growing so fast it that the number of inmates returning to prison is about 86%, 40.8 % returned within the first 3 years of release. Not to mention the “war on drugs” which is filling the cells so fast there is less time space for murderers, rapist and other violent offenders. (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 1)
Prisons are so damaging to one’s mental health that they find it almost impossible to find a place for themselves in society. In no time at all they find themselves back into a life of crime. From what I have read, it seems as if the only chance a criminal has of rehabilitation is before he or she enters a prison. A virgin to the prison system has a much greater chance off being taught morals, values and self-respect than after he or she has lived the life of a prisoner. After he or she serves a sentence in a facility, the frame of mind of the convict is in such a criminal tone that only the mentally strongest of people have a chance of leading a normal life. The “SHOCK” program for first time offenders has shown to have a much lower recidivism rate. This once again proves the fact that decent human treatment is far more effective than methods practiced in the rest of the corrections system. In my opinion the “SHOCK” program should do a better job at promoting pride and values and should be longer than a few months, but is definitely a huge step in the right direction.