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Monday, May 8, 2017


A prison inmates

A prison inmates

Rev. James Fatuse continues to share his experience in South African prisons by giving out to those in need of spiritual and life counseling.

Correctional Centers are not normal environments. They are, as Bottoms (1999) observed, not only ‘total institutions’ in the sense that they encompass inmates’ lives to an extent qualitatively greater than other social institutions (Goffman, 1961). 

They are physical places (mostly surrounded by high walls) with a specific history and ethos that are designed to be places of punishment. Correctional Centres bring troubled human beings, often with a long history of violence as victim or offender, into confined spaces against their wills. 

These scarred individuals are brought into close contact with staff whom they greatly outnumber but who must on a daily basis maintain a peaceful and orderly routine. The wonder is there is not more violence in Correctional Centres. 

This article provides a brief overview of what is known about what causes prison violence, and how it can be prevented or reduced. Also, this article provides a brief overview of the relationship between an offender/inmate and an official in a correctional center more particularly at St. Albans Correctional Centre. 

The focus is interpersonal violence rather than a collective disorder or self-inflicted harm, but the review, on the one hand, does encompass violence involving staff (whether as victim or perpetrator) as well as prisoner-to-prisoner violence. 

The method is a selective and interpretive review of the literature, drawing particularly on key theoretical models and well-designed empirical studies, rather than being a more formal systematic review or meta-analysis. The article includes an update of material in an earlier comprehensive review of the literature on violence and violence prevention (Chapter 5 in Homel, 1999)1. 

There are no over-arching theories of prison violence, but there are several influential schools of thought. In prison sociology, two well-established but contrasting perspectives are the deprivation and importation models. 

The deprivation model holds, in brief, that the prison environment and loss of freedom cause deep psychological trauma so that for reasons of psychological self-preservation prisoners create a deviant prison subculture that promotes violence. 

The importation model emphasizes what prisoners bring into the institution: their histories, personal attributes and social networks, including links to criminal groups. 

The empirical literature supports both these models but perhaps the most pronounced trend in recent literature is a growing recognition of the importance of very specific features of the social and physical environments of the prison and of the “minutiae of the average prison day.” 

Even in studies that are primarily focused on other factors, the details of how a prison is organized in time and space, how individuals interact with and help shape a dynamic environment, and the role of specific situational factors in precipitating or regulating violence emerge as crucial. 

Thus we should add, as two newer but influential theoretical positions, the transactional model (Bottoms, 1999) and the situational model (Wortley, 2002). These, it is suggested, are complementary not competing for perspectives that help to make sense of what can be a bewildering variety of empirical findings. 

Factors found to be related to violence include pre-existing prisoner characteristics (e.g., prisoner age and gender); structural or situational factors (e.g., prison architecture and design; level of security); management practices (e.g., staffing models, staff skills and training, prison culture and management style); and outside environmental influences (e.g., political pressures on prison administrators; racial tensions). 

Poor prison management resulting in dysfunctional forms of control emerges as a major cause of interpersonal violence, the sour relationship between officials and inmates and by implication modification of these practices (especially the removal of arbitrary coercive controls) is effective in reducing violence. 

Other effective prevention strategies include a range of situational measures (e.g., improved surveillance of high-risk locations, the manipulation of prisoner privileges, improvement of supervision of both staff and prisoners); some offender treatment and education programs (e.g., in-prison therapeutic communities; college-level education programs); and some ‘social prevention’ programs. 

It should be noted, however, that the evidence for the violence reduction effects of prisoner treatment and education tends to be weak and inconsistent, with situational factors such as time spent in programs away from unstructured recreational activities.

Perhaps a more parsimonious explanation for what effects were found than program philosophy or content. Situational factors also seem to be essential to the success of most social prevention approaches. 


The Framework Liberty of the person is one of the most precious rights of all human beings. In certain circumstances, judicial authorities may decide that it is necessary to deprive some people of that right for a period of time as a consequence of the actions of which they have been convicted or of which they are accused. 

When this happens the persons concerned are handed over by the judicial authority to the care of the prison administration. They are then described as prisoners. The essence of imprisonment is the deprivation of liberty and the task of the prison authorities is to ensure that this is implemented in a manner which is no more.

This article is a sequel to A CALL FOR PEACE IN SOUTH AFRICA PRISONS

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