prisonization | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Corrections

Prisonization is the process where inmates adopt the norms, values, and behaviors of the prison subculture to survive the stresses of life behind bars.

As soon as people step into the world of incarceration, they encounter a vastly different universe. Prisons have unique environments, rules, and a subculture that requires specific strategies to navigate. What inmates do to survive could involve aggressive or violent behaviors. While these actions are not acceptable outside of prison, they gradually become a part of the prison norm. In the long run, inmates might start feeling a bond with other prisoners while, at the same time, becoming distant from the values of the outside world.

Various factors influence the process of prisonization. These include the time a person spends in prison, the seriousness of their crime, and the type of prison facility they’re in. As a rule, inmates in maximum-security prisons or those serving extended sentences are more prone to prisonization compared to those in low-security facilities or with shorter sentences.

Impacts of Prisonization

Prisonization has many adverse effects on both the individuals experiencing it and society at large. For instance, if an inmate becomes prisonized, they might struggle to adapt to life outside once they’re released. They might find it tough to blend back into society or to follow societal norms. If they’ve picked up any antisocial habits during their incarceration, they’re likely to carry these back into the community, increasing the chance of further criminal behavior.

Prison staff also bear the brunt of prisonization. Staff members could face heightened aggression or violence from prisonized inmates, making the prison environment risky for them, the inmates, and everyone else in the facility.

Addressing Prisonization

Different strategies can help decrease prisonization. One of these involves implementing rehabilitation programs that aid reentry into society. Education, job training, and counseling services can all equip inmates with the skills and attitudes needed for a successful life outside prison. In this way, their dependency on the prison subculture can be reduced.

Additionally, efforts to reduce prison overcrowding and improve prison conditions can also mitigate the negative effects of prisonization. A more humane environment lessens the chance for inmates to develop detrimental attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, prisonization isn’t an inevitable result of incarceration but rather a harmful pattern that can be addressed with the right approaches.

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Last Modified: 06/08/2023


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