Written By – Anshal Dhiman
Sociology of prisons
Prisons have continued to be a tool for punishment against actions that violate social conduct, control and regulation. Prisons form an institute of their own. Although prisons and sociologists have existed for a long time, sociologists only found prisons worth their time around 30 years ago; when Donald Clemmer published his work “The Prison Community”. Prisons are a tough place to settle in for the newcomers, with the cultural, social and economical change that they have to go through. Another issue that arises is the influence of existing prisoners, as they overtake the officials to teach newcomers the ways of the prison.
One major issue for prisons nowadays is its remedial value. Prisons seem to have lost its remedial and renovative merit. This is majorly because of the interactions of the prisoners inside the prisons. The communication process inside the prison results in the prisoners learning ways of each other, which mainly includes misbehaviours. Robert K. Merton, an American sociologist, believed that prisoners learn to approach their objectives based on their interactions with the inmates inside the prison, and if they cannot achieve an objective normally, they look for other ways, which may not be normal. Newcomers learn more from professional criminals inside prisons as they teach them their own methods of committing crimes. This can be avoided by separation and classification of the criminals, and frequent visits by families, which normally results in decrease in crimes inside prison. But as the duration of prison time increases, prisoners learn more techniques, which is further helped by the density of prisoners in the prison, which results in easy exchanges between the prisoners, and as a result this communication leads to crimes committed inside prisons. Prisons are no more an appropriate place to deal with prisoners. Studies of the Bureau of Justice show that amongst prisoners who were released, 67% of them were reconvicted inside 3 years, with 46% of them being convicted for a new crime while 51% ended back up in the prison due to technical violations or a fresh sentence.
Social deviance is one of the major reasons why people end up in prisons. It also leads to the labeling of people, whether someone is delinquent or a criminal, although the labeling is not accurate every time. Sociologist Edwin Lemert understood that many primary acts of social deviance go unnoticed, while secondary acts might lead to serious consequences, which leads to labeling. Once a person is labeled as a criminal, he/she is assumed to be a criminal and their kismet changes overtime. The labeling theory assumes that deviance is caused by reactions from social factors, majorly those which exist in a controlling position. It has also been noticed over the years that provisions that provide for punishments to the deviants usually result in more people ending up in the prisons than lowering the number of deviants, as mentioned above. Prisons are the modern tool to punish criminals in a society, but their use has been of much concern. There have been many instances where the punishment does not match the degree of the crime committed or where the state has overused prisons to an extent where people don’t fear prisons, and furthermore leads to economic costs.
Prisons prove very costly to those who spend time in them. Prisons lead to people being separated from their families, them accepting the anti social values because of their experiences inside the prison, which is furthermore fuelled by social rejection and the inability to get employment.
It is clear that prisons need reforms to restore their remedial and renovative value for what they were built for, and not to continue its present day usage. New guidelines and regulations are also needed to ensure positive treatment of the prisoners.