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A Country Called Prison #4

The Unknown's picture

            Chapter 3 introduces the offenders who are the inhabitants of the country called Prison. Many offenders come from extremely poor neighborhoods; they have suffered abuse, neglect, mental illness, addiction, and have been poorly socialized. Whether this history is understood through the lens of differential association theory, social learning theory, general theory of crime, containment theory, or social bond theory, the general criminological consensus is that criminal behavior stems from the lack of education and psychological growth throughout childhood. Looman and Carl argue that the main reason criminals reoffend is because of the lack of resources allocated to rehabilitation and psychosocial growth and development. In essence, Looman and Carl oppose the misconception that inmates are scary and that the general public should be fearful of them; instead, society needs to commit additional resources to their mental, emotional, and social development during incarceration.

            The authors suggest that once one is taken into custody and found guilty of a crime, regardless if one goes to prison or not, one becomes a legal alien in the United States when one crosses the border into the Country Called Prison (32).

            Estimates suggest that 65 million Americans have criminal records by the time they are 23 years old (32). Only 14% of the arrests are for violent or simple assault crimes (32). In 2001, 4.3 million of the 5.6 million adults who had been imprisoned previously were no longer in prison (32). In 1997, research completed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 5.1% of all Americans will be sent to prison in their lifetime (32). As of March 2014, the Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. population was 317,712,320 (32-33). If one takes 5.1% of that figure, one gets 16,203,328. The lifetime estimated prison population of 16,203,328 would make the Country Called Prison the fifth largest state in the United States, right after Florida (18 million) and bigger than Illinois (12 million) (33). Prison could be a “swing state” in any presidential election if all current and former inmates were allowed to vote.

            Conservatively, the authors conclude that 16 million people make up the Country Called Prison (34). When one considers those convicted of a felony and their family members, 65 million is perhaps a more accurate estimate of the Country Called Prison. Nevertheless, even at the more conservative estimate of 16 million, which is based in empirical data, the population of the Country Called Prison is greater than that of the fourth largest state in the nation and a country larger than many of the US’ allies (34-35).

            Donald Clemmer published the first research that suggested that inmates create a shared culture. Employed in a penitentiary in Illinois, Clemmer suggested that inmates create a culture with distinct principles and norms. He named the process by which prisoners learn these principles and norms prisonization (35).

            Following the researcher of Clemmer, Gresham Sykes (1958) suggested that prison culture originates from the deprivation that the offender experiences in prison (36). Sykes identified five kinds of deprivation: loss of commodities and services that one is accustomed to having in the world outside prison, loss of heterosexual relationships, loss of independence, loss of a sense of security, and loss of freedom (36).

            For some womyn, the decision to become a mother is made because it is an event that they think they can control.

            A little over 41% of inmates have only attended some high school or less, compared to 18% of the general population (38).

            Carl and Looman assert that many people have never really been taught how to conduct themselves “properly” in society (39). Because many offenders come from “deprived” backgrounds, it is not surprising that the rules they learned growing up thwart their success (39).

            Citizens in the Country Called Prison have their own national identity. People who are incarcerated have their own language, colloquialisms, and dress. A person immediately acquires a new identity when he or shi goes into prison. People who go into prison embrace their new national identity quickly because they are quickly given a DOC (Department of Corrections) number (40).


Anne Dalke's picture

As with your earlier reports, lots of layers and irony here (esp "Prison could be a 'swing state' in any presidential election if all current and former inmates were allowed to vote"--since they are not). Also of interest is including in the Country Called Prison all the family members of those convicted, which makes me think of Alice Goffman's book, On the Run, about the impact of mass incarceration and policing on low-income African-American urban communities. I'm taking note, too, of the notion of the shared "national identity" of those who have been imprisoned--as I continue to chew over the accuracy of the metaphors of "nation" and "citizen" (shades here of Claudia Rankine).

Was also thinking of your reading project when I came across this article on "prison ecology" (which I thought might interest you from both directions!): . One quote in particular might be of shared interest: the observation that, in this context, "restoration makes sense: The maximum sentence in Norway is twenty-one years. Everyone is going home.” (Remember our discussion with Eli Clare in Ecological Literacy, the resistance to the desire for restoration....?)