Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


MU Study Looks at Social Structure of Prison Communities

Sociologist Examines Factors that Determine Respect or Lack Thereof Among Inmates

In community settings, there’s always at least one person or perhaps a group of individuals who are most highly respected. Prison systems are no different; one’s social status results from interpersonal dynamics. To better understand social structure in California prison communities, Brian Colwell, a researcher at the University of Missouri, recently examined peer relationships among inmates.

His theoretical study examines prison culture and processes in which inmates determine respect, or lack thereof, for their peers. He said respect is rooted in perceived similarities among people and can be conveyed in a variety ways: eye contact, physical orientation, similar behaviors and how inmates speak to one another.

“People always want to size up another person,” said Colwell, assistant professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Science. “But in prison, marking another person as being of higher or lower status, and communicating those evaluations, can get you in a lot of trouble. You don’t want to seem subservient, and you also don’t want to diminish someone else. You want to maintain a level playing field. For that reason, to avoid conflict, a lot of emphasis is placed on respect. Showing someone respect is a way of recognizing his or her value as being similar to yours. It’s a way of honoring someone as a person, but not necessarily doing so because they’re better.”

Social circumstances and realities associated with prison environments necessitated the study. At 16 California prisons, Colwell conducted 131 interviews of first-time and long-term male inmates, asking them questions like: What advice do you give new inmates coming into prison? What are some of the things you want to know about an inmate you’re meeting for the first time? What prevents inter-group violence at this prison?

He said the California system is unique because it is factional and populated with various groups of inmates who align themselves according to communities, ethnicity and gang affiliation. They must coexist, he said, but in most circumstances those various groups prefer to remain separated because they don’t get along. In addition, they don’t want to be subjugated, Colwell said.

“There’s a lot that goes on in prison,” he said. “Prison is not an alien world; similar things occur outside of prisons such as groups not getting along and having separate social organizations but trying to coexist. It’s like the term Balkanization, inter-ethnic conflict, the Sunnis and Kurds. A prison itself is like this ongoing society that is fractured, and one’s relations are often characterized by extremes of conflict and cohesion. It’s a microcosm of situations where there’s a lot of civil strife. It’s an inmate society, but the dynamic is pertinent to how people deal with living in contentious social environments.”

Along with respect, Colwell also examined reasons for violent behavior, which occurs frequently in prison communities due to conflict. He said violent acts are more then just about establishing a pecking order and are one sided “celebrations” of the contrast between aggressor and victim. Colwell said violence – verbal slights or overt acts of aggression – sometimes emanate from just wanting to reinforce one’s self-identity.

The study, “Deference or Respect? Status Management Practices Among Prison Inmates,” will appear in the December issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.

Bryan C. Daniels | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>