One explanation of institutional aggression (otherwsie known as IA) are dispositional factors, this means that aggression is determined by a persons pre-existing disposition and personal characteristics that will impact on how aggressive they behave. The theory states that for example, if a large amount of people with aforementioned characteristics are in an institution then it is the norm and IA will occur.
Furthermore, Irwin and Cressey devised a model called the importation model. This model states that a lot of the behaviour shown by these aggressive individuals within the institutions is also shown in wider society, this means that they do not act more aggressively because they are in an institution but they are just importing their aggression to a different location. Cressey, however had gone further in this research to state that in order to understand why IA occurs and to prove what causes it, it becomes necessary to look at the behaviours and traits of inmates outside of the institutions and states that only studying inmates within institutions is the incorrect approach.
Moreover, Mills et al conducted research into this field which supports the idea of pre-existing factors shaping behaviour within prisons. Mills et al found that in a prison within Canada, 202 inmates who were surveyed using the alcohol dependence scale and had a higher level of alcohol depend had also shown to have higher levels of serious institutional misconduct. Thereby the research shows that it is pre-existing factors, such as alcoholism, that determin institutional misconduct. Harer and Steffernmeier studied data from 58 American prisons and had found a correlation between being African American and having a higher level of misconduct within the prison. These pieces of research show a clear correlation between an individuals disposition and their aggression levels within an institution and this implies that these dispositional factors are imported into the institution.
However, all of the research conducted was correlation and correlation does not mean causation. This means that we can not draw a direct link between personal or demographic characteristics and aggression levels within an institution. De Lisi et al thereby stated that surely an individuals previous affiliation with a gang would lead them to be more aggressive. De Lisi et al had then studied over 800 male inmates and had found no direct correlation between prior affiliation with a gang and levels of violence within prison. This means that there are other factors at play other than a persons disposition.
Additionally, the deprivation model attempts to explain why dispositional factors such as gang affiliation did not affect institutional aggression. The idea of situational factors was introduced, this idea stated that a non-aggressive person can be made into an aggressive person via the environment around them. The situational factors which cause aggression are the organisation which runs the institution, the physical place, the staff characteristics i.e. gender and level of experience, the environmental characteristics i.e. noise and temperature as well as the perceived and real deprivation that occurs whilst a person is within the institution. Sykes based a study off of his time in prison and Sykes argues that the aggressive behaviour of inmates originates from the deprivation that they experience on a day to day basis.
The underlying cause of all of this is stress and that the deprivation a person faces causes stress which leads them to be aggressive. Sykes outlined 5 various forms of deprivation that cause aggression, these are, liberty i.e. how much freedom a person has, autonomy i.e. whether or not a person can make their own decisions, the goods and services i.e. entertainment, heterosexual relationships and final security i.e. their privacy and confinement. Sykes states that the more of these forms of deprivation occur, the individual is more likely to be more aggressive. Sykes further states that individuals act aggressive in order to reduce stress and obtain these things they feel they are deprived off. This model can also be useful in explaining aggression in schools and hospitals.
Furthermore, McCorkle et al studied prisons and found that overcrowding as well as the lack of privacy and meaningful activity influenced violence. Hodgkinson et al also tested some of these criteria in hospitals and discovered that more qualified nurse had a significantly lower chance of being victims of assault than less experienced nurses. Davies et al also tested some of these criteria of deprivation and whether they cause aggression. The research showed that more experienced officers were less likely to suffer an assault. Thereby we can see that McCorkle et als sutdy supports Syke’s claim that security and autonomy lead to aggression which supports the situational factors theory. Davies and Hodgkinson on the other hand supported the main theorys claim that the staff characteristics are a large influence in aggression as the more experienced the nurses and officers were, the less likely they were to experience assault.
Unfortunately, Nijman conducted research that showed that an increase of personal space in psychiatric institutions failed to decrease levels of violence amongst the patience within it. This research directly contradicts the statements made by Syk es and situational theory as increased space and privacy did not decrease violence. Furthermore, Poole and Regoli found that amongst juvenile offenders in 4 different institutions, pre-institutional violence was the best indicator of inmate aggression regardless of the particular feature i.e. overcrowding. Whilst this research may not be generalisable to adults or the wider population, the findings support the importation model and cast doubt as to the validity of the deprivation model. Moreover, Sykes and the situational model may be out dated now due to the prison reform and many other changes in the world such as the increased emphasis on training, education and anger management courses. This decreases deprivation experienced by prisoners in western society.
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