The Effect of Prison Culture on Prison Staff

A look into the adverse socio-effects working inside a prison environment

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2010 17 Pages

Law - Criminal process, Criminology, Law Enforcement





1.0 Abstract

2.0 Introduction
2.1 Research Questions
2.2 Objectives
2.3 Implications

3.0 Literature Review
3.1 Prison Management Theory
3.2 Prison Culture
3.3 Staff Culture
3.4 Concepts and Themes

4.0 Theoretical Considerations

5.0 Methodology
5.1 Ethical Considerations
5.2 Data Gathering

6.0 Analytical Discussion
6.1 Findings
6.2 Discussion

7.0 Conclusion

Works Cited

1.0 Abstract

A qualitative research study looking at the effects of prison culture on prison staff and possible solutions to perceived problems. By looking at prison management theory, prison culture, and staff culture, this paper provides a comprehensive explanation of the influences within prison relations and how those influences affect prison staff at both the ‘frontline’ and the administrative levels. This is the first research study in Canada to specifically relate the effects of prison culture on prison staff and examine the correctional institution as a workplace environment. Using interviews as the data collection method, this study shows how the unstable and chaotic nature of the prison negatively influences those working within it. This paper hopes to provide concrete solutions to the problems identified. By doing so, the prison as a workplace can be improved which results in increased job performance and job satisfaction and a better institution to live and work in.

2.0 Introduction

As with every society, prisons have their own culture derived from the patterns of everyday life that is relative to the unique circumstances of prison life. This prison culture integrates knowledge, norms, values, mores and other common habits that have evolved naturally over time to form a framework which naturally influences those within it (Cornelius, 1992, pp. 138-142). The biggest factor within the culture that makes it particularly special and unique is the deprivation of liberty for inmates which poses different organizational circumstances than that of other institutions.

2.1 Research Questions

This general exploratory research study will examine the effects of prison culture on staff relations in order to understand the harsh reality of having a prison as a workplace. By looking at the effects of prison culture on staff at the ground level and at the administrative level, it will be possible to determine the extent of the prison’s influence on staff in different positions of authority. More specifically, this research will help answer the following questions:

- To what extent does prison culture influence prison staff?
- To what extent does this influence affect job performance?
- What are the consequences of inmate/employee interactions?
- What are some solutions?

2.2 Objectives

This study will be exploratory in nature as the potential problems are not known; this research will hopefully help uncover and identify the main problems for staff in a correctional facility. By identifying and examining the influence of the prison on staff, one may then contemplate possible solutions to ameliorate and eliminate the potential problems.

By limiting or nullifying these negative effects of prison culture on staff, job satisfaction could be restored and job performance improved. This could help prisons operate more effectively and efficiently as well as help retain qualified employees and “reduce turnover which creates consistent staffing problems for correctional administrators” (Camp, 1994, p. 279). When the employees are satisfied and performing well, the prison system can manage inmates more appropriately.

2.3 Implications

Some scholars such as Nils Christie (2000) and Yvonne Jewkes (2007) state that the prison system is so flawed at the most basic level that it is only fixable through total reform. Though I do agree the current system is very flawed as it is based upon outdated theories and beliefs, it serves no purpose to perpetuate extravagant abolitionist or other modern theory arguments that have no basis in reality. While these scholars offer mostly theoretical positions, this study will establish concrete data concerning prison culture and staff that can be used to help make a prison a better place to work and live in. This study will touch upon the many theoretical underpinnings concerned with prison management as well as the studies concerning prison culture to determine the best way to properly manage and run correctional institutions.

3.0 Literature Review

In order to fully understand the underlying theories and concepts with this research, the relevant literature must be reviewed. Although there is ample information concerning prison culture, there are not many resources about staff culture and almost nothing about the effects of prison culture on staff culture. Arnold, Liebling & Tait (2007) go on to say that “research on prison life tends to neglect prison officers.” This is the gap that this study intends to fill, or at least start to fill. In the contemporary management field, it has become clear that workplace conditions play a huge factor in job satisfaction. (Vinokur-Kaplan & Jayaratne & Chess, 1994, pp.116-117). A correctional facility is highly dangerous and uncertain and thus presents a very stressful and unstable workplace (Stojkovic & Farkas, 2003, pp.63-64). Very little research is available surrounding the employee side of prison life and so prison staff relations have largely gone unnoticed which is why this study is important in the criminological field.

3.1 Prison Management

Prison management theory has been debated and researched for as long as society has been incarcerating people. Several management theories have been proposed and adopted for the management of correctional facilities but because each institution is different and may have specific goals, each theory is distinct in one way or another to account for these institutional differences. Nonetheless, the goal of all managers is to clearly define objectives (Wood & Bandura, 1989, p. 363) which makes it clear to prison staff what has to be done. By using precise definitions, there are no discrepancies amongst employees. This is extremely important in a prison where the slightest instance of confusion could turn into a life-threatening situation. Most of these topics are covered by Chase Riveland in his work Prison Management Trends (1999) that goes over the recent history of prison management theory and where it is headed; and Rehabilitation versus Control: An Organizational Theory of Prison Management (Craig, 2004) which compares the needs of the society against the needs of the inmate. Ultimately, it is easy to see why there has been so much research put into prison management considering the population that is to be managed are criminals and thus resultantly pose very unique problems for managers.

3.2 Prison Culture

Just exactly why a prison is so unstable and dangerous (Stojkovic & Farkas, 2003, pp.63-64) has largely to do with the prison culture. As much as the people involved with the prison influence the culture around them, prison culture characterizes the way the prison operates in quite the same manner. Prison culture is never static; it is always changing with new situations, new inmates/guards, new legislation, new Wardens and/or other administrators, etc. So although never acknowledged formally, there becomes an unwritten code to which everyone adheres to (or has no other choice but to adhere to).

Prison culture is one of the key “empirical and theoretical terrains of prison sociology” (Jewkes, 2007). Defined as the idealized behavior for inmates, the code has been discussed in relation to a range of phenomena including inmate dominance (Ohlin 1956; Sykes 1958; Sykes & Messinger 1960), the process of ‘prisonization’ (Clemmer 1938; Wheeler 1961; Atchley and McCabe 1968), and the pains of imprisonment (Sykes and Messinger 1960).

When someone is sentenced to an institution for the first time, they must learn and adapt to this culture, which Donald Clemmer (1938) refers to as “prisonization” (p.479). Clemmer (1938) identifies basic “universal factors of prisonization” (p.480) in which almost every inmate is subject to such as being referred to as a number, acceptance of an inferior role and controlled life, or something as simple as different bathroom habits. The deepening of criminality and antisociality happens when the prisoner fully conforms to the criminogenic prison culture. The level to which one is prisonized is mostly dependent on interrelated determining factors such as their outside social networks and relationships, cellmates, work gang, criminality, age and length of sentence.

Peterson & Thomas (1990) argue that “prisons are usually little more than places to keep people – warehouses of human degradation” (p. 33). They continue by stating that correctional facilities “are breeding places of crime, violence, and despair” (Petersen & Thomas, 1990, p. 33). It is widely accepted that this prison culture not only exists but significantly influences those within it so it is easy to see how this unstable and violent environment surrounding prison life can not only influence the prisoners but it can also influence the employees working in the prison.

3.3 Staff Culture

Similar to the culture of prison inmates, prison staff also have a unique culture surrounding their lives in the institution, sometimes called the ‘Prison Officer Working Personality’ (Byrne, Hummer & Taxman, 2008, p.107). This prison staff culture is comparable to police culture as both professions are seen as very solitary and isolated due to the authority and power they have over regular citizens. Furthermore, camaraderie often develops amongst cops and guards respectively because their job involves positioning themselves against crime and those who carry it out and thus rely on each other heavily as a team. Prison officers, due to the nature of their work, are often suspicious, macho, internally cohesive, pragmatic, hard-nosed and brash (Byrne, Hummer & Taxman, 2008, p.107). According to Webb (1978), guards must become “Con Wise”; that is, “he must come to have an understanding of the inmate culture, certain expectations of inmates, and a method of interacting with inmates that is common to guards” (p. 20). Without this acculturation, guards would be extremely disadvantaged and more prone to being conned.



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Title: The Effect of Prison Culture on Prison Staff