Examining Social Structure Theory Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 17 September 2016

Examining Social Structure Theory

For the purpose of this paper in examining theories, I have chosen to view the Tent City, AZ video. “Located in the desert near downtown Phoenix, Tent City houses 2,000 inmates in canvas tents” (Films Media Group, 2007). Conditions are difficult for the inmates, and since there are no prison bars, maintaining control over the inmates is a constant concern for the guards (Films Media Group, 2007). I will show that the content of the video should be appropriately acknowledged as well as studied using a social structure theoretical application. I will review the social disorganization theory, the strain theory, and the culture conflict theory, and how they supported the social structure theory in relation to Tent City. I will identify the primary subjects of the video, and the social issues that are raised for the inmates in the Tent City facility. Additionally, I will examine the major principles of sociological theories and the ramifications of social process change. Let’s begin with an explanation of the social structure theory and some examples from the video that supports these theories.

Supporting Social Structure Theory

In watching the Tent City video, it is apparent that it follows the social structure theory. The subcultures that are created by dividing the inmates into racial groups comes with some protection for the inmates from those in their racial group, but this protection can come with a price (Films Media Group, 2007). According to the text, there are three major types of theories that support the social structure theories. They include the social disorganization theory, strain theory, and culture conflict theory (Schmalleger, 2012, “Social Structures Theories/Types of Social Structure Theories”). The text goes on to explain that the “Social disorganization theory (which depicts social change, social conflict and lack of social consensus as the root causes of crime and deviance)” (Schmalleger, 2012, “Social Structures Theories/Social Disorganization Theory”). The strain theory is defined “as the pressure that individuals feel to reach socially determined goals” (Schmalleger, 2012, “Social Structures Theories/Strain Theory”). The culture conflict theory “suggests that the root cause of criminality can be found in a clash of values between differently socialized groups over what is acceptable or proper behavior” (Schmalleger, 2012, “Social Structures Theories/Culture Conflict Theory”).

The social disorganization theory, the strain theory, and the culture conflict theory are supported in this video by the following examples. The social disorganization theory is supported in the Tent City video by the segregation of inmates being housed with their same racial group. This causes the groups to stick to themselves for reasons of safety and protection from other racial groups and gives each group a sense of belonging and fitting in. The inmates are expected to follow the rules that include avoidance of involvement with contraband. The contraband is used by the inmates to get things such as money, commissary items, and power or status within their racial group as well as to the other racial groups. The strain theory is supported in the video because the restrictions of inmate belongings are enormous. The inmates are deprived of many things including condiments, tobacco, drugs, and anything that can be used to construct weapons.

The inmates are subjected to frequent but random searches by the guards and the Special Response Team (SRT). They are often stripped down to their under ware during the searches, which gives the inmates negative feelings, and reduces their self-esteem as they are forced to cower to the guards. Additionally, the restrictions put strain on the inmates, causing some to disobey the rules, which puts them in a position of acting deviant to gain the things they desire. While, to some degree the inmates must depend on other inmates for safety, protection, and contraband items, they each know that they are on their own. The culture conflict theory is supported in the video in the aspect of racial segregation. This causes power and status struggles between the racial groups as they are struggling to survive their incarceration while attempting to maintain some form of self-worth.

Primary Subject of Video

The primary subject of this video is keeping control of the facility with the use of zero tolerance policies for the inmates of Tent City. It focuses on a new inmate named Ryan Merlina, who was “convicted of forgery, burglary, and most recently, possession of methamphetamine” (Films Media Group, 2007). Merlina, who has a long history of drug use and has been in and out of the juvenile system for a considerable amount of his teen years, at age nineteen came to Tent City, an adult facility (Films Media Group, 2007). In addition to the videos depiction of the circumstances faced by staff and inmates, it chronicles Merlinas’ personal struggles with his journey through incarceration at Tent City. On an Internet video, Films Media Group (2007) states that, the court offered Merlina a reduced sentence in exchange for him pleading guilty.

“If he behaves himself, he’ll serve just six months at Tent City. But if he messes up, he’ll get 12 years in state prison” (Films Media Group, 2007). At Tent City, the inmates are not allowed to have certain things such as sugar, tobacco, drugs, and weapons. The prison system employs the Special Response Team (SRT), who conducts random and frequent searches to stay ahead of the inmate’s attempts to control and distribute contraband items. This is done to catch the inmates off guard, seize contraband, and find out who is responsible for the contraband, and hold that inmate accountable through punishments such as solitary confinement and in some cases the implementation of maximum sentences (Films Media Group, 2007). In a setting such as the one of Tent City, the inmates face social issues of their confinement.

Social Issues Raised

The social issues raised in the video relate to the subcultures created within the Tent City facility. The inmates are separated into racial groups. The newly arriving inmates are assigned to a tent that they share with twenty-one other inmates, all who are felons (Films Media Group, 2007). According to the video one guard stated, “Unfortunately, everything out here is organized by race. And when a new inmates comes into our system, they’ll be approached by someone from their race who will explain to them what the rules and expectations are out here” (Films Media Group, 2007). “Rule number one, stick to your own race. Each group has its own seating area and name” (Films Media Group, 2007). Because the inmates stick with their own racial group, this creates social issues amongst all inmates. “The groups claim they exist to provide protection. Officers say their purpose is controlling inmates and contraband” (Films Media Group, 2007). Each racial group has leaders that generally involve themselves in contraband. It becomes a struggle for the inmates to try to control contraband while also trying to stay under the radar of the guards.

“In this hostile environment, tensions run high and chaos is always just around the corner” (Films Media Group, 2007). New inmates quickly learn that, “sometimes it’s not a rival group inmates have to worry about, it’s their own” (Films Media Groups, 2007). “The DOs have ways of turning us against each other if we mess up. That’s their way of punishing us. They’ll make you look like a bad guy and get your tent tossed on you. Then it’s going to make everybody in your tent mad at you” (Films Media Group, 2007). For those inmates that break the rules of their group, they suffer punishments that are swift and painful (Films Media Group, 2007). The punishment for minor infractions such as a verbal insult will result in a punch in the jaw, but for major ones, such as not paying a debt, the inmate will receive a beating by three or more inmates of their racial group (Films Media Group, 2007). Due to the social issues that arise from incarceration, principles of the sociological theories are evident.

Major Principles of Sociological Theory

According to the text, social structure “theories look at the formal and informal economic and social arrangements (or structure) of society as the root causes of crime and deviance” (Schmalleger, 2012, “Social Structures Theories/Definition of Social Structure Theories”). In addition, the social structure theories look at the negative aspects of society’s structure, such as disorganization, poverty, and disadvantages associated with lack of educational success as the cause of criminal behavior (Schmalleger, 2012, “Social Structures Theories/Definition of Social Structure Theories”). The major principles of the sociological theory that are addressed in the video are Tent City’s social group arrangements of society that provides focus for study, group dynamics and subgroup relationships from which crime develops, society’s structure and degree of organization/disorganization, and specific behaviors that can statistically estimate characteristics to engage in crime.

The social groups formed in Tent City are racially motivated, meaning that each inmate is segregated to their own racial group to keep the different racial groups separated from each other. The group dynamics in a population of criminals that are divided into subgroups by race offers two examples the major principles. One example relates to the group being made up of all criminals, and the second example relates to the racially segregated subgroups that keep the inmates with their own race.

This can lead to struggles related to status amongst their own racial group, and to the other racial groups. Society’s structure, being a prison that is run under zero tolerance rules (organization), and the conflicting disorganization of the inmates and their desire for obtaining contraband, while they struggle to complete their sentence without getting into trouble. Additionally, the specific behaviors that each inmate possesses that brought them to commit crimes that resulted in their incarceration is a major principle of sociological theories. Criminal behaviors by individuals, grouped with the criminal behaviors of the other inmates, can be a cause for additional criminal behavior.

Possible Ramifications for Social Process Change

While integrating the inmates together and removing the racially segregated groups may seem like the appropriate thing to do, there are possible ramifications of changes in their social processes that need to be addressed. For the inmates, these racially segregated groups offer some form of protection. By removing the built in sense of protection, it can cause additional stress and anxiety for the inmates. The inmates are deprived of many “luxuries”, and tend to look to their fellow inmates to receive some creature comforts of home. Although the inmates can only depend on themselves, the racially segregated groups offer the inmates a sense of support by belonging to a group. Removing that element can open the door for cultural clashes. According to the text, the “Social process theories draw their explanatory power from the process of interaction between individuals and society” (Schmalleger, 2012, “Theories of Social Process and Social Development/The Social Process Perspective”).

Social process changes within the Tent City facility can weaken the inmates established social bonds, which could result in them turning on each other because of different cultural practices and beliefs. According to the text, criminal behaviors are learned through the interaction with others (Schmalleger, 2012, “Theories of Social Process and Social Development/The Social Process Perspective”). And social process “is seen as the primary route through which learning occurs” (Schmalleger, 2012, “Theories of Social Process and Social Development/Summary”). If changes are to be made, they have to be enacted in society during a person’s learning process, only then can it make positive change.

Conclusion

As you can see, the content of the video should be appropriately acknowledged and studied using a social structure theoretical application. I have shown how the subcultures created by dividing the inmates into racial groups comes with some protection for the inmates from those in their racial group, but this protection comes with a price (Films Media Group, 2007). The three major types of theories that support the social structure theories include the social disorganization theory, strain theory, and culture conflict theory. All of these theories are supported in the video by the conditions and circumstances presented to the inmates of Tent City both current and in the past. The primary subjects addressed in the video include the zero tolerance practices of the guards and its focus on the inmate named Ryan Merlina. For Merlina, it’s a daily struggle to do his time quickly by avoiding deviant behavior while for the guards it’s a constant struggle to maintain control over the inmates.

This leads to how the social structure theories look at the negative aspects of society’s structure like disorganization, poverty, and disadvantages that cause criminal behavior (Schmalleger, 2012, “Social Structures Theories/Definition of Social Structure Theories”). The ramifications for social policy change discussed show that any changes to the current situational practices of the Tent City facility would cause problems for the inmates, and possibly create cultural clashes amongst the inmates. Since the inmates are deprived of “luxuries” and comforts, they depend on the friendships of other inmates for support and protection. By removing a built in sense of protection, it can cause additional stress and anxiety for the inmates. While it is obvious that the inmates can only depend on themselves, the racially segregated groups do offer the inmates a sense of belonging. To conclude, it is apparent to me that this video does provide some important factors that can be appropriately acknowledged and studied using a social structure theoretical application.

References

Films Media Group (2007). Lockdown: Tent City [Video file]. Retrieved from Films on Demand website: http://digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?aid=7967&xtid=40796 Schmalleger, F. (2012). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction (6th ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection Database

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