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Essay on Goffmans Theory Of Incarceration

Devolution of the Incarcerated Prison was once thought to be an effective deterrent for crime. The premise was simple, if a person did not comply with the law, they will be fined and thrown in jail for a long period of time. During that time the prisoner is incarcerated, they are greeted with substandard living conditions, strict rules and regulations limiting their rights, and other criminals that have done the same crime or worse. This at a time was thought to be the formula for rehabilitation.

Fast forward to today, and the same formula is still applied, however, the subject of recidivism – the act of reoffending or repeating an undesirable behaviour – has now become a topic. Criminals are usually the first to blame mainly because the public views the institution as a place rehabilitation, however, that is not truly the case. The prison environment has forced the incarcerated to remodel their behaviour in order to adapt to prison culture, eventually, deviating from their former persona; even upon after release.

Environment and Standards of Living It is proven that when a person is put in an extremely different environment, in order to survive they must adapt to it. The same thing can said with the prisoners in these institutions. Generally, coming from more predominantly poor areas, the environment reinforces the motto, “Kill or be killed”. Take that type of culture into the prisons and associate that with, a small room, restricted freedom of movement, military formations, very dirty conditions, and authority figures that can and will beat a criminal if they are out of line.

Any person that is placed in that type of environment is bound to change drastically if exposed to it for a long period of time. The isolation and rejection from the outside world alone is enough to force a prisoner to turn their back on the outside world. Society sees them as “unfixable”, so in return the prisoner either tries to prove they belongs in society or alienate themselves completely. Sykes (2006) states in the article, The Society of Captives: A Study in Maximum Security Prison, “confinement of the criminal represents a deliberate, moral rejection of the criminal by the free community” (p. 64). If most criminals are thinking they are just the “rejected models” as well as surround themselves with the criminals that think the same way about themselves, it is logical to see why criminals change their former ways and embrace their criminal personas.

Criminals released from jail even complain that there is nothing in the outside world left for them anymore, so they reoffend. “Well, some people, you know this is like their home… Yeah it’s the only place they’ve really got. Nobody wants ’em you know” (Hasley, 2007, p. 43). So, if society and the State neglects the potential of rehabilitating an offender, then there is no point of struggling to uphold a clean and new identity because all they see is a criminal in a nice suit. This leads into stigma and how it affects a criminal. Goffman’s theory states that stigma is “the phenomenon whereby an individual with an attribute which is deeply discredited by his/her society is rejected as a result of the attribute. Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity”.

Every criminal entering the institution has obtained a stigma once they are written into the system and the institution itself reinforces that stigma time and time again. Which is proven through actions that the jail has taken, such as enforcing,” the anonymity of a uniform and a number rather than a name, the shaven head, the insistence of on gestures of respect and subordination when addressing officials and so on” (Sykes, 2006, p. 165). These actions are the exact opposite to what society imposes. This proves that once incarcerated a criminal does not only give up their rights but their individuality as well.

Thus, creating an environment meant to drain, demoralize and destroy a criminal from the inside out. Routine and Rules The routine and rules that are enforced in prisons are usually seen as methods to help create a more disciplined citizen. However, these routines can also be seen as another way to demoralize prisoners in the system. The routines create a hierarchy between the prisoners and the officials by separating the lawful from the lawless. Sykes (2006) states that, “the prisoner is subjected to a vast body of rules and commands which are designed to control his behaviour in minute detail” (p. 68). Thus, giving the officials not only the power to watch criminals, but, the power to manage and control them. It can be argued that the prison’s way of attending to criminals is similar to how a military school would run. These strict rules and regulations are used in order to check criminals’ behaviour and to maintain control in the jail. Although that may be true it is shown that most criminals in the prison does not see this as a way to “check themselves”, but see these rules as blasphemous and unfair.

Sykes (2006) states that, “most prisoners, in fact, express an intense hostility against their far reaching dependence on the decisions of their captors and the restricted ability to make choices must be included among the pains of imprisonment along with restrictions of physical liberty, the possessions of goods and services and heterosexual relationships” (p. 169). The institutions reverted all the criminals back to childhood in a sense that they are on a strict routine that must be followed, directed by authority figures, and are dependable on those authority figures to progress.

Which, ironically, is reminiscent of a child enrolling in elementary school. Thus, criminals no longer have the right to make choices for themselves, prisons and society now sees criminals only as second class citizens. This may be seen as unconstitutional, however, considering prisons are built for managing a large amount of men and women who have broken the law and are currently a threat to society, it is logical to state that the reason why the institution does not focus on a criminals problems individually is because the prisons must control and account for a vast amount of criminals.

Whom now is, “no longer simply a man who has broken the law; he has become a part of a group with an alternative viewpoint and thus attacks the validity of the law itself” (Sykes, 2006, p. 170). There needs to be a strict set of rules that can quickly and effectively control the group. Thus, “public humiliation, enforced respect and deference the finality of authoritarian decisions, the demands for a specified course of conduct” (Sykes, 2006. p. 170), are all ways that the officials control the prisons.

It can be argued that the goal is to demoralize the inmates to the point where they have no integrity, thus being easier to control. Goffman (2006) suggests that “beatings, shock therapy or… surgery… may lead many inmates to feel that their environment does not guarantee their physical integrity” (p. 21). As well as, “holding their body in a humiliating pose… providing a humiliating verbal response” (p. 22), additionally, “loss of identity equipment can prevent the individual from presenting his usual image of himself to others” (p. 21).

All these contribute to disciplining the individual, although it is important to point out that, even though this strategy may work for some, in the long term the criminals who have been humiliated will soon assume new identities from their broken one. Mentality Once incarcerated it is not only recommended that inmates to drop their former identities – depending on how long the inmate was incarcerated for – it is of the upmost importance to create a new persona in prison. In order for inmates to survive jail they need to be mentally and physically tough.

As a result of the environment and the routine that jails possesses, their physical and mental toughness are tested every day. Jewkes (2005) points out that, “for most inmates, peer group respect, individual status, and ability to access scarce resources all rests on a reputation for aggressiveness and in physical strength” (p. 46). This is an institution filled with the most dangerous criminals in the area, so it is plausible to say that the inmates commit their crimes based on necessity as well as status.

That mentality carries over into the prisons and creates conflict within the prisons. By cause of their need for hierarchy and thus the only way to prove who is on top is based on their aggressiveness and toughness. It is common for everyone in prison to put on a “manly front” defined by Goffman and Tolson as, “the dramatic motif a class-based edge, arguing that the working-class boy expresses himself, not so much in an inner competitive struggle for achievement, as through collective toughness, a “masculine performance” recognized and approved by his mates” (Jewkes, 2005, p. 8). This type of approval determines if the inmate goes up or down the “food chain”. From there an inmate would find a group in order to associate themselves with; presumably, a group that matches eir crime.

A couple of inmates were interviewed in the article Men and Masculinities, one of them named Tom goes on to quote, “Drug dealers stick together… I don’t mix with the bag heads (heroin users) or house burglars – they’re scum… you can’t really have friends in prison just associates” (p. 0). Despite that being true in a lot of cases, it is better to fight the trials of prison with an associate and most inmates would agree, based on the fact, that it will be easier to be singled-out when not part of a group. Although some prisons have some sort of companionship, most if not all will still have their suspicions of others. In prison, even though there are inmates with similar charges it does not necessarily mean that they will all keep each other safe or accountable.

Sykes (2006) believes that even if the individual prisoner believes that he himself is not the sort of person who is likely to attack or exploit weaker and less resourceful fellow captives, he is apt to view others with more suspicion. And if he himself is prepared to commit crimes, he likely to feel that many others will be at least equally ready” (p. 171). This is not to be confused with trust between the inmates because they are always on the offensive and alert. The world that they live in currently is chaotic, unpredictable and unstable in the sense that a simple joke can result in a stabbing the following day.

Additionally, the officials watching over the prison will simply turn the other way not even acknowledging the “disappearance” of an inmate… Wyner (2006) describes the metamorphosis that she underwent part of the institution by expressing that she now has a prison persona; “… hands in pocket, a slow uncaring walk, shoulder hunched, scowling and grumpy; a woman of few words but always a curse at the ready. It happened in just two or three days. Being exposed to this mentality is enough to permanently change and arguably damage a person.

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