Criminal Justice Studies Research Paper

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It can be argued that the topic “criminal justice studies” does not belong here because criminal justice studies have little to do with the field of sociology. Indeed, with the development of criminal justice programs across the nation in the decades following the 1960s, criminal justice courses became competitive with sociology courses and many former sociology majors became criminal justice majors. But the fact still remains that sociologists wrote many of policing, courts, and corrections’ classic studies. Some of these studies were done before the concept of criminal justice studies even existed or were published in the early days of the development of the field of criminal justice. Examples of such sociological studies of policing were Wilson’s (1968) examination of the varieties of police behavior in a community; Skolnick’s (1994) discussion of the working personality of the police; Pound’s (1914) presentation of the value neutral nature of law; Quinney’s (1970) conflict analysis of law; Chambliss’s (1964) analysis of vagrancy law; Clemmer’s (1958) participant observation study of inmate culture at the Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois; Sykes and Messinger’s (1960) depiction of the informal code of inmates in the Trenton Correctional Center; and Wheeler’s (1961) examination of prisonization in the Washington State Reformatory.

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Another indicator of the influence of sociology on criminal justice studies is that in the last couple of decades, sociology of policing, sociology of law, and sociology of corrections courses are being taught, especially in upper division courses in sociology and criminology programs. Sociology of law curriculums were developed earlier than sociology of policing and corrections courses and are more established, but sociology of policing and sociology of corrections courses are currently receiving greater attention. But the sociology of corrections approach is much more likely to look at the influence of contemporary social and political conditions than would traditional approaches to corrections. For example, current concerns include how the “make prisoners suffer” mood of the 1990s has affected corrections, and what are the consequences of the budgetary shortfalls of the post-2000 period. There is also a need to understand the nature of the disillusionment that exists among contemporary correctional practitioners such as what it has been affected by and how extensive it is (Bartollas 2004).

Sociological Approaches to Police Studies

Sociological approaches to understanding the police can be divided into the following areas: the police as a formal organization, police and society, police culture, police and race, the role behavior of police officers, and police and the female police officer.

Police as a Formal Organization

The understanding of the bureaucratic nature of policing goes back to the writings of Max Weber ([1946] 1958). In drawing on Weber’s analysis of the basic components and rules of bureaucracies, scholars emphasize that police organizations are complex bureaucracies, which have budgets of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

Edward R. Maguire (2003) has recently analyzed a number of elements of police bureaucracies: (1) the division of labor, (2) hierarchical structures and established chains of command, (3) impersonal organizational relationships, (4) universal standards, (5) entrance and advancement standards, (6) authority and responsibility, and (7) span of authority. Community ecology, which relates to how agencies are structured and operated, is another important consideration. Community ecology is affected by the size of the community served by an agency; the number of departmental employees; whether the agency is in a rural, urban, or suburban area; local crime problems; and the community’s economic status. Finally, increased attention is being paid to the human side of police organizations—proactive versus reactive policing, alternative management styles, people processing versus people changing, and the development of culture.

Police and Society

Democratic systems of government rest on a delicate balance between individual rights and collective needs. This balance, based on a long history of constitutional government, is weighted on the side of individual rights. As David Bayley (1977) states,

Government in the United States is created by communities to achieve certain limited purposes. Government is a created artifact and is distrusted. . . . Americans believe that the only way to restrain this power is to ensure that its agents do not exceed the authority of the law. (P. 224)

Claiming to be apolitical suggests that the police will not violate the power entrusted to them. But in practice police organizations are anything but apolitical in that the police function in a public political arena, and their mandate is politically defined. According to Manning (1997), there are three reasons why the police are involved in the political system. First, the vast majority of the police in the United States are locally controlled. The sheriff is typically an elected position, and municipal policing is embedded in the context of local political culture. Second, law is a political entity. The administration of criminal law encompasses political values and political ends. The police are tied to a political system that defines the law, itself a product of interpretations of what is proper and right from the perspective of powerful segments within the community. Third, because police uphold the law, individuals may lose various freedoms and even life itself (Manning 1997).

James Q. Wilson’s (1968) classic study of styles of policing in a community describes how a particular police agency sees its purpose and the techniques that it uses to fulfill that purpose. He identified three styles of policing: (1) the watchman style, (2) the legalistic style, and (3) the service style. The watchman style of policing, according to Wilson, is primarily concerned with achieving the goal of “order maintenance.” This style makes considerable use of discretion, with its informal orientation sometimes taking a different approach in middle-class and lower-class communities. The legalistic style is committed to the full enforcement of the law. This style makes little use of discretion and, as much as possible, tries to eliminate it. Those who are involved in the service style of policing see themselves as helpers rather than as crime fighters.

Sociological studies of the police have emphasized the need for a new direction in policing, broadly termed “community policing.” Community-oriented policing (COP) is also known as problem-oriented policing (POP), strategic policing, or neighborhood-oriented policing. This approach affirms the importance of police and citizens working together to control crime and maintain order and is committed to building strong relationships with institutions and individuals in the community (Goldstein 1990).

Police Culture

The process of being introduced into the police culture is called socialization. Socialization usually takes place in three steps: the officer’s initiation into the culture, the development of a working personality, and the acceptance of the informal system. This informal code fills the void that the formal system of regulations, policies, and procedures does not cover. The informal system is taught to young recruits through a variety of socializing experiences at the academy, while riding with a training officer, and when interacting with peers on a daily basis. Values of the police culture, such as loyalty and individualism, are reinforced due to the belief that the formal system does not adequately provide for the needs of the police officer. The informal system provides a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that supposedly transverses racial, gender, and jurisdictional boundaries as represented by the slogan “the thin blue line.” This type of solidarity is most evident when officers travel across state lines to share emotions at the funeral of a fallen officer.

The actual content of these informal rules varies among departments, but according to Skolnick (1994), “one underpinning of the police subculture is the belief among police officers that no one, i.e., management or the public understands them” (p. 44). Elizabeth Reuss-Ianni’s (1983:13–16) study found that the culture of the New York City police included such maxims as “watch out for your partner,” “don’t give up another cop,” and “getting the job done” (themes of solidarity); “protect your ass,” “don’t trust a guy until you have him checked out,” “don’t trust bosses to look out for your interests,” and “don’t make waves” (themes of isolationism) and “show ball,” “be aggressive when you have to, but don’t be too eager,” and “civilians never command police” (themes of bravery). Malcolm K. Sparrow, Mark H. Moore, and David M. Kennedy’s Beyond 911 (1990) suggests that police culture includes at least six beliefs: (1) the police are the only real crime fighters, (2) no one understands the work of a police officer, (3) loyalty counts more than anything, (4) it is impossible to win the war on crime without bending the rules, (5) the public is demanding and nonsupportive, and (6) working in patrol is the least desirable job in policing.

The degree to which these informal rules are accepted also varies across departments and even from one police officer to another. Officers who violate these informal rules risk having difficulties with fellow officers. These difficulties range from being the brunt of wise cracks and derogatory comments to being ignored by fellow officers or being transferred to another district or area of assignment. These informal norms serve to protect those who become involved in corruption or in the use of necessary force. The “blue curtain” or code of silence can be a firm barrier against administrative knowledge. It can also be exceptionally effective if it is perceived to involve an act that promises to tarnish all the good works that police officers do.

Police and Race

Nicholas Alex’s (1969) classic study reveals the struggles of minority police officers to be accepted into the police culture. Alex’s examination of African American police officers in the New York City Police Department found that European American police officers were often accepting of African American officers at the workplace but typically excluded African American officers in other social settings. He also found that African American officers faced the problem of not being accepted by his or her race. He called this problem one of “double marginality” (Alex 1969:13–14).

Race and ethnicity further affect how individuals view the performance of the police. For example, the attitudes of European Americans are much more favorable than those of African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans toward the police. What generates so many negative feelings toward the police on the part of the poor, especially members of minority groups, is the way in which the police apply to them the heavy heel of the law. The police usually treat European Americans with respect, unless they push the police too far, but African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans too often experience violence and victimization. The sociological concept of racial profiling addresses this form of differential justice (Manning 1997).

Role of Police Officers

The personality of the police, police corruption, police and the use of force, and stress and the police officer have received considerable attention through the years. Indeed, the bulk of the early writings, as well of contemporary writings on the police, have examined the role of police officers.

The Personality of the Police

The three key elements of Jerome Skolnick’s (1994) classic typology of personality are danger, authority, and efficiency. Danger is ever present due to officer’s continual contact with the criminal element. Authority is essential to the working personality of the police, because the typical response of citizens is to deny recognition of authority. Thus, rookies learn early that the need to take charge of the situation requires using a forceful voice and maintaining a dominant stance. Efficiency is another important aspect of the working personality of the police. Skolnick contends that this demand for efficiency requires that police become craftsmen, thereby meeting the yardstick for performance placed on them by the department. In addition, it helps them feel good about maintaining order in the community.

Police Corruption

Police corruption is best understood not as deviance of individual officers but as group behavior guided by contradictory sets of norms linked to the organization that the erring individuals belong to, that is, organizational deviance. Even though police corruption is systemic, the individual equation still cannot be completely factored out. Corruption ranges from political favoritism for personal gain, ignoring crime, and accepting gifts for favors, to outright theft and extortion (Kappeler, Sluder, and Alpert 1994).

Although corruption has been a problem of varying degrees from the very beginning of policing in this nation, the widespread availability of drugs has increased the opportunity for wrongdoing. Officers assigned to drug enforcement units are constantly exposed to large supplies of drugs and cash. Patrol units also deal with the trafficking of drugs although not to the extent of specialized units (Kappeler et al. 1994).

Police and the Use of Force

The use of coercive force by peace officers has always been accepted as an inevitable part of the profession. According to Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), “Anybody who fails to understand the centrality of force to police work has no business in a police uniform” (p. 37). Justifiable use of force is often seen as illegitimate by some in the community, which leads to distrust, strained police-community relations, riots, and violence toward the police. But Skolnick and Fyfe (1993) propose that brutality has diminished in the past 50 years and even more so in the past 20 years stating, “We need to recall how much worse routine police brutality used to be” (p.18). An examination of the brutal nature of policing in the nineteenth century, court cases in the twentieth century that document the extensive use of third-degree police proceedings, and the 1931 Wickersham Commission’s findings about widespread brutality certainly support Skolnick and Fyfe’s thesis; police brutality has decreased in recent decades.

Police and Stress

Stress is a physical response to a perceived threat, challenge, or change and stressors represent anything in the environment that can cause a stress response. The emotional reaction to the stressor(s) creates a physiological response, the effects of which depend on the coping mechanism of the individual (Mitchell and Everly 1993). The police officer is subject to high stress levels with daily hassles and occasional critical incidents representing the main sources of stress. Yet organizational stressors usually have greater impact on officers. In some departments, officers believe that they wear their armored vests for what they deal with inside the station rather than what occurs on the streets (Martelli, Waters, and Martelli 1989).

The Female Police Officer

Susan Martin (1980) documented how female police officers experience difficulty in gaining acceptance in a traditionally white male occupation. Females are likely to become disillusioned because of their treatment, abuse, and sexual harassment by fellow officers. In addition, Martin found that sex-based discrimination occurs when it comes to promotions and job assignments.

The sociology of policing is also concerned with sexual harassment. Included in this discussion are legal protections involving the categories of law that cover sexual harassment in the workplace; an analysis of the courts’ findings of sexual harassment, especially the reasonable woman standards; and the personal and departmental costs of sexual harassment. The wider context of sexual harassment involves patriarchal social, philosophical, and political systems in which women are subsumed under men. But the more immediate context is the male police culture. This is a culture, according to male officers, that demands dominance, aggressiveness, superiority, and power. It is commonly believed that the basic aspects of police work make it unsuitable for women (Fletcher 1995).

Sociology of Law

The most dominant concern of the sociology of law focuses on consensus versus conflict perspectives toward the law. Early studies evaluated the efficiency and justice of the court process, and new developments examined by the sociology of law include critical legal studies, feminist legal theory, and critical race theory.

Consensus versus Conflict Perspectives toward the Law

Roscoe Pound (1914) is considered to be one of the main proponents of the consensus perspective. According to this well-known legal scholar, society is viewed as composed of diverse groups whose interests often conflict with one another while still being in basic harmony. He considers certain interests as essential for the well-being of society, maintaining that the reconciliation between the conflicting interests of diverse groups in society is essential to maintaining social order.

In marked contrast to the consensus perspective, the conflict view considers law as a “weapon in social conflict” (Turk 1978). From this perspective, the transformation of society is due to both group interests and differences in real power between groups. Diverse groups compete to have their interests protected through the formalization of their interests into law. On the basis of this idea, Richard Quinney (1970) argues that rather than being a device to control interests, law is an outgrowth of the inherent conflict between groups.

While many kinds of groups are involved in lawmaking, powerful groups have a substantial voice in the lawmaking process. For example, William J. Chambliss’s (1964) study of vagrancy statutes illustrates the power of economic and commercial interests to influence legislation. He shows how the development of vagrancy laws paralleled the need of landowners for cheap labor during the period in England when the system of serfdom was collapsing. Vagrancy laws served (Chambliss 1964) “to force laborers (whether personally free or unfree) to accept employment at a low wage in order to insure the landowner an adequate supply of labor at a price he could afford to pay” (p. 69). Subsequently, vagrancy statutes were modified to protect commercial and industrial interests and to ensure safe commercial transportation.

Efficiency and Justice of the Court Process

A number of studies have evaluated the efficiency and justice of the court process by examining the courtroom work group, the policy of plea bargaining, and the jury. In the following sections each of these areas is briefly discussed.

The Courtroom Work Group

David W. Neubauer (1974) states that five questions are important for understanding the decision making of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges: Who makes the decisions? What standards are employed in making these decisions? How do the decision makers interact? How are the defendant’s rights protected? Who benefits from the process? He also argues that the courtroom work group makes the decisions and the courthouse work group benefits from the court process, especially when plea bargaining is widely used.

The three principal actors of the courtroom work group are the judge, the defense attorney, and the prosecutor. The judge’s role behavior in setting bail, negotiating a guilty plea, conducting the trial, making sentencing decisions, and becoming involved in correctional reform has received considerable attention. For example, Paul B. Wice’s (1974) national survey of pretrial release found that an experienced judge generally develops a predetermined bail amount for each category of crime, but this does not automatically result in a uniform bail-setting policy. Each judge has his or her own conception of the relative seriousness of various offenses: variations in judges’ systems of values determine which particular crime appeared most offensive.

Wice (1978) has conducted a number of studies on the types of defense attorneys. He found that the starting salaries for public defenders were generally competitive with those offered by the district attorney’s office but that the overall salaries paid to public defenders are still considerably lower than those of lawyers in private practice or corporate law. The typical private criminal lawyer, as revealed in Wice’s study of private practice criminal lawyers in nine major cities, is aggressive and egotistical. These traits are believed necessary for effective courtroom performance and for establishing a workable lawyer-client relationship.

George Cole (1983) concludes from his study of prosecutors that three types of considerations affect the decision to prosecute: evidential, pragmatic, and organizational issues. Evidential elements refer to whether or not sufficient evidence exists to charge an individual with a specific crime. Pragmatic considerations, which have their origins in the prosecutor’s joint responsibility to both the defendant and the society, require the prosecutor to evaluate factors such as the character of the defendant and the complainants, the effect of the case on the families of all the parties involved as well as on the community as a whole, and the mental and physical welfare of all parties. Organizational considerations refer to the internal institutional pressures that the criminal justice system exerts on the prosecutor.

Plea Bargaining

Malcolm M. Feeley (1979) notes that “reliance on a single term such as plea-bargaining imposes a blanket of uniformity on a process in which great diversity and intensity in combativeness—short of trial—does in fact exist” (p. 29). Lynn M. Mather (1979) concurs, saying that criminal courts vary from one jurisdiction to the next in terms of frequency of plea bargaining, the dominance of the prosecutor or judge over plea bargaining, the stage at which plea negotiations are likely to occur, and whether the bargaining focuses on the charges or on the sentence. Martin A. Levin’s (1977) study of sentencing in Minneapolis found that little reduction of charges occurred in Minneapolis. Indeed, in his sample, the original charge was reduced in only 7.9 percent of the cases. James Eisenstein and Herbert Jacob (1977) have also examined variations in plea bargaining in felony courts in Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit. In Chicago, the plea depended on an agreement to a sentence; the offense charged usually did not change. But in Baltimore and Detroit, the plea more often involved a reduction in the offense charged or the selection of a lesser offense among those charged against the defendant.

Juries under Attack

The selection of a jury is one of the most important aspects of a criminal trial. The jury system has been under attack in recent years, and it has been suggested that the jury should be replaced by a bench trial (i.e., a trial before a judge). The ideal size of a jury and the necessity of a unanimous decision are other issues of the jury system that have been widely debated. Another issue receiving discussion concerns freedom of the press, including cameras in the courtroom.

Harry Kalven and Hans Zeisel’s (1966) The American Jury, the major work of the Chicago Jury Project, debunks a number of popular myths about a jury, such as (1) the jury does not understand what it is doing, (2) the jury is putty in the hands of a skilled lawyer, (3) juries are incompetent because of the low educational level of jurors, (4) one person often hangs a jury of 12 persons, (5) a sentimental display on the witness stand influences a jury, and (6) the jury is trigger-happy.

New Developments in the Sociology of Law

Critical legal studies (CLS, also referred to as CRITS) is a new but controversial addition to the debate on law, legal education, and the role of lawyers in society (Belliotti 1992; Kramer 1995; Necsu 2000). Beginning with a group of junior faculty members and law students at Yale University in the late 1960s, it has spread across the nation. In 1977, CLS was organized into the Conference of Critical Legal Studies; this movement currently has over 400 members and holds an annual conference that draws more than 1,000 participants (Vago 2006).

Proponents of CLS reject the notion that there is anything unique or special about legal reasoning. Consistent with other forms of analysis, legal reasoning is unable to operate independently of personal biases of attorneys or judges. This approach sees law as so contradictory that it permits the context of a case to determine its outcome. The very nature of the contradictions and inconsistencies of law mean that judicial decisions are not as rational as is often assumed.

Feminist legal theory is another intellectual movement that has had considerable influence on the sociology of law. It focuses primarily on sex-based equality in the work place, reproductive rights, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, just to mention a few. Feminist legal theory draws from the experiences of women and from critical perspectives developed in other disciplines to analyze the relationship between law and gender. Unlike critical legal studies, which started in elite law schools and were highly influenced by contemporary Marxism, feminist legal theories arose out of mass political movements (Rhode and Sanger 2005) concerned with issues such as the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, continued sexual subordination and exploitation in the profession of law, setbacks with regard to abortion rights, and the prevalence of sexism in society. It has also been influenced by the argument that “tough on crime” policies have had negative consequences for women, especially in the form of cuts in social services (Chesney-Lind and Pasko 2004a, 2004b; Miller 1998; Vago 2006).

A central tendency in feminist legal theories is to regard men within a patriarchal society as the source of women’s problems. One of the themes in feminist legal literature deals with women’s struggle for equality in a maledominated legal profession and in the broader society. Another theme of feminist legal scholarship emphasizes how male bias influences practically every feature of law. The third dominant theme challenges the very concepts law invokes to support its contention that it is a just and fair institution (Vago 2006).

Critical race theory, a dynamic and growing movement in law, has more than 700 leading law review articles and at least a dozen books devoted to it (see, e.g., Ayres 2003; Delgado 2004). Much like feminist legal theory, critical race theory is concerned with questions of discrimination, oppression, equality, and the lack of diversity in the legal profession. The actual inception and formal organization of the movement can be traced to a 1989 workshop on Critical Race Theory in Madison, Wisconsin (Delgado 1994, 2004; Delgado and Stefancic 2002). Originally connected to critical legal studies and feminist jurisprudence, many of the proponents of the 1989 conference effectively ratified critical race theory as an important component of legal theory. The critical race theory movement attempts to rectify the wrongs of racism while acknowledging that racism is an inherent part of modern society. Proponents recognize that its elimination is impossible, but at the same time, they contend that an ongoing struggle to counter racism must be carried out (Vago 2006).

Sociology of Corrections

Most sociological approaches to corrections have focused on sociological perspectives on the correctional system, the inmate world and how that social environment has changed.

Sociological Perspectives on the Correctional System

The three major theoretical paradigms in sociology— functionalist perspective, conflict perspective, and interactionist perspective—influence the sociology of corrections. Functionalists and conflict theorists take a broad view, looking at “macro” or institutional issues of social life, while the interactionist perspective focuses on “micro” or interactional issues.

According to Gresham Sykes (1958), the structuralfunctional approach to the prison rests on a set of basic insights. First, it is argued that prison, like any other complex social system persisting through time, cannot be run by the use of force alone, that some degree of voluntary cooperation on the part of those who are ruled is necessary. The problem then is how this cooperation can be obtained. Second, the rewards and punishments legally available to prison authorities are generally inadequate, as far as securing cooperation is concerned. Third, some degree of cooperation can be obtained—and usually is—by a system of illegal or forbidden rewards, such as guards ignoring the infraction of prison rules by inmates. Prisoners are allowed to engage in various forms of deviant behavior— ostensibly of a minor sort—in exchange for a peaceful institution. This pattern of the custodians breaking the rules for the sake of peace and order is part of an extensive pattern of “corruption” based on friendship and the innocuous encroachment on the guards’ duties by inmates.

Fourth, prisoners are faced with a number of psychological threats to their self-concept or sense of worth, which can reduce them to a state of childlike dependence or force them into homosexual liaisons. Fifth, much of the behavior of inmates can be interpreted as attempts, conscious or unconscious, to counter the problems and psychological threats created by the deprivations of prison life. Finally, it is claimed that the behavior patterns of inmates spring from a set of values, attitudes, and beliefs that find expression in the so-called inmates’ code. This code specifies a pattern of approved conduct, but it is an ideal rather than a description of how inmates behave.

The structural-functional model has contributed in turn to the development of the deprivation model and the importation model. According to Sykes (1958), the deprivation model views losses experienced by incarcerated inmates as part of the costs of imprisonment. The model describes prisoners’ attempts to adapt to the deprivations imposed by incarceration. The importation model suggests that influences prior to incarceration affect prisoners’ imprisonment.

Charles W. Thomas, in a study of a maximum-security prison in a southeastern state, concluded that integration of the deprivation and importation models was needed to understand the impact of the prison culture on an inmate. Thomas found that the greater the degree of similarity between a person’s preprison activities and the norms of the prison subculture, the greater was the person’s receptivity to the influences of prisonization. He also found that inmates who had the greatest degree of contact with the outside world had the lowest degree of prisonization (Thomas 1970, 1975).

The Inmate World

In the Big House, as movies of the 1930s suggest, old “cons” informed new prisoners that the guards were in control and the inmates had to make the best of it. To make their time easier in the Big House, convicts developed their own social roles, informal codes of behaviors, and language. Gresham Sykes (1958:64–108) created a typology of these social roles: rats and center men, who hope to relieve their pains by betrayal of fellow prisoners; gorillas and merchants, who relieve deprivation by preying on their fellow; prisoners, taking their possessions by force or the threat of force; wolves, punks, and fags, who engage in homosexual acts either voluntarily or under coercion to relieve the deprivation of heterosexuality; real men, who endure the rigors of confinement with dignity, as opposed to ball busters who openly defy authority; toughs, who are overtly violent, who will fight with anyone, strong or weak, and who “won’t take anything from anybody; hispters, who talk tough but are really “all wind and gumdrops.”

The social roles that prisoners, other than “real men,” chose to play provided ways to reduce the rigors of prison life at the expense of fellow prisoners. Convicts fulfilling the social role of the “real man” were loyal and generous and tried to minimize friction among inmates. To the extent that they succeeded, they fostered social cohesion and inmate solidarity. Sykes (1958:64–108) concluded that when cohesion was not achieved, and the rats, center men, gorillas, wolves, and toughs breached solidarity, prison life became “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

In the Big House, the informal inmate code of behavior was based on the following tenets (Sykes and Messinger 1960:6–8): Don’t interfere with inmate interests; Never rat on a con; Do your own time; Don’t exploit fellow inmates; Be tough; Be a man; Never back down from a fight; Don’t trust the “hacks” (guards) or the things they stand for. The inmate code was functional not only to prisoners but to prison administrators. The code promoted order because it encouraged each prisoner to serve his sentence instead of creating problems for himself and others. Prisoners understood that disorder within the walls would mean that informal arrangements between prisoner leaders and staff would be set aside and prisoners would lose privileges it had taken them years to attain. The code also protected the self-respect of inmates because they knew they were maintaining order not for the staff but for themselves. “Hacks” were the enemy, and a convict who was worthy made his animosity toward the enemy very clear.

Nevertheless, inmates and guards in the Big House knew that they depended on each other. Inmates maintained order and performed many of the tasks of running the institution. In turn, guards permitted inmates to violate certain rules and to gain privileges that were contrary to policy. What took place was an exchange. Staff and inmates accommodated each other’s needs while maintaining a hostile stance toward each other.

Donald Clemmer, who studied the Big House in his seminal study of Menard Prison in southern Illinois, claimed that the solidarity of the inmate world caused prisoners to become more criminalized than they already were. Clemmer (1958) coined the term prisonization, defining it as the “taking on in greater or lesser degree of the folkways, customs, and general culture of the penitentiary” (p. 299). He added,

Prisonization is a process of assimilation, in which prisoners adopt a subordinate status, learn prison argot (language), take on the habits of other prisoners, engage in various forms of deviant behavior such as homosexual behavior and gambling, develop antagonistic attitudes toward guards, and become acquainted with inmate dogmas and mores. (Pp. 299–300)

Clemmer’s emphasis was on the unique situation of the prison as a half-closed community composed of unwilling members under the coercive control of state employees. The prison was viewed as a closed system, despite the fact that staff and the prisoners brought elements of the outside culture into this world. Clemmer claimed that all convicts are prisonized to some extent and possibly as many as 20 percent are completely prisonized. He also argued that on release the highly prisonized offenders were likely to return to crime.

In their 1965 study of the Frontera Correctional Institution in California, David Ward and Gene Kassebaum (1965) found that women attempted to deal with the painful conditions of confinement by establishing homosexual alliances. These prison love affairs were described as unstable, short-lived, explosive, and based on the roles of “butch” and “femme.” The “butch” was the dominant role and the “femme” was the docile or female role.

However, Rose Giallombardo’s (1966) study of the federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia, indicated a major difference between male and female prisoners. With female inmates, membership in “fictive families” was more common than participation in homosexual activity. Gillombardo reported that the women at Alderson established familial relationships similar to their relationships in the free world. A sort of family life—with “mothers and fathers,” “grandparents,” and “aunts and uncles” was at the very center of inmate life at Alderson and provided a sense of belonging and identification that enabled inmates involved in “families affairs” to do easier time. Unlike male prisoners, the women at Alderson did not design a social system to combat the social and physical deprivations of prison.

Esther Heffernan’s (1972) research at the District of Columbia Women’s Reformatory in Occoquan, Virginia, also supported the hypothesis that fictive kinship structures are present in women’s prisons. Heffernan, along with Giallombardo, emphasized the concept of latent cultural identity as a factor leading to the formation of the fictive family. By this, she meant the preinstitutional identity that the female offender brings with her into the prison setting. Heffernan contended that women construct kinship structures because females are socialized to conceive of themselves, their needs, and their peer relationships chiefly in terms of family roles and situations.

How the Inmate World Has Changed

John Irwin (1980) divides the recent history of the prison into the eras of the Big House, the correctional institution, and the contemporary prison. This division provides a helpful outline for examining changes in, for instance, social roles, informal behavior norms, and social solidarity in inmate culture in U.S. prisons.

The so-called Big House dominated American corrections from the early twentieth century through the 1950s. In the Big House, prison populations exhibited considerable homogeneity. Most of the inmates were white, property offenders, and had spent several stints in prison during the course of their criminal career. “Convicts,” as they were known then, developed a unified culture and kept their distance from the “hacks” or guards (Irwin 1980).

After World War II, correctional institutions replaced Big Houses in many states. The use of indeterminate sentencing, classification, and treatment represented the realization of the rehabilitative ideal. But as most staff knew and new prisoners quickly learned, the main purpose of the correctional institution was to punish, control, and restrain prisoners, with treatment playing only a minor role. The solidarity present among inmates of the Big House disappeared. Racial conflict developed, inmates saw themselves as political prisoners, and violence toward staff and other inmates took place on a regular basis (Irwin 1980).

James B. Jacobs’s (1977) classic study of the Stateville Penitentiary in Illinois shows how much the external society influences what takes place within the prison. He describes the various external groups that entered Stateville that sought to influence the decisions made in this setting. More precisely, he documents how the black Muslims, street gangs from Chicago, and civil liberty and legal groups penetrated prisons in the 1960s and 1970s. But the basis of real transformation, he argued, came from the judicial review of prison administration and prison procedures.

Another change in the inmate world is found with the development of the prisoner radicalization movement. In the prisoner radicalization writings of the 1960s, which included Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, and George Jackson, members of the lower class were perceived as political prisoners, victims of an unjust system of social control and economic relationships that “force” the poor into antisocial behavior. Soledad Brother, the prison letters of the late George Jackson, was a sacred document for the movement (Jackson 1970).

The sociology of corrections continues to this day to be concerned with the prisoner radicalization movement. Inmates involved with this movement can be divided into three groups. One group consists of those inmates who become radicals and attempt to incite large-scale institutional riots and other forms of institutional disturbance. Another group consists of those who go along with collective violence once it begins. The largest group of political prisoners consists of those who “talk the talk” of being political prisoners but are not foolish enough to become involved in violence toward the staff or the institution. They usually are members of a gang and believe that the collective force of the gang provides some protection against the tyranny of staff and the state (Jones and Schymid 2000).

Today, in the era of the contemporary prison, the social order often verges on collapse; in fact, at times, the social order does collapse. Over the long term, however, this fragmented, tense, and violent setting remains intact because inmates ultimately prefer order to disorder (Irwin 1980). As one gang leader who was interviewed by the present author stated, “We’re in control around here, if we wanted to, we could take the prison apart, but we choose not to. We’ve too much to lose” (Bartollas 1995).

The prison of the twenty-first century is a place of violence and disillusionment. Several factors account for the hopelessness that many inmates feel: the ever-increasing problem of idleness, longer sentences, tighter controls imposed by staff, overcrowding, the decline of political ideology, more lockdown time and fewer privileges, and the reduced possibility of relief through the judicial process.

Prospectus for the 21st Century

The sociology of law will likely see increased interest in critical legal studies, feminist legal theory, and critical race theory. Within the next decade or two, both the sociology of policing and the sociology of corrections will be better grounded in social theory and research and, like the sociology of law, will be well established in the discipline. Thus, policing and corrections, which were influenced so much in their early days of development by sociological research will come full circle and become much more sociologically oriented. Major developments will likely include community-based models in the sociology of policing and growing attention in the sociology of corrections to the social dynamics, which contribute to the humane care of offenders.

The growing concern with community-based models in policing and more humane conditions in correctional facilities may have important, long-term policy implications for how we deal with crime in the American society. The more that police officers are situated in the community, the more likely they will see themselves as serving the needs of the community and will pursue proactive and preventative means of enforcement.

The movement toward more humane care of offenders, particularly those sentenced to long-term institutions, is very much needed. The “make prisoners suffer” approach that was prevalent throughout the United States during the 1990s and “get tough with prisoners” policy actually changed the philosophy of imprisonment from that of depriving inmates of their freedom to punishing inmates. An alternative approach is, however, both possible and feasible through proactive management philosophy and techniques emphasizing the humane treatment of staff and inmates.


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