Prison Culture Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Corcoran State Prison: Prison Culture and Effect on Inmates

The prisons in the U.S. have a long history of offering correction services and rehabilitation for the people convicted of various crimes within the society. There have been increased incarceration of inmates over the last few decades with prisons getting more populated than before hence the introduction of the privately run correction facilities to help handle the large number of people within the prison walls at any given time. However, the inclusion of the private prisons have not helped matters much neither have they improved the rehabilitation process or the living standards of the inmates in comparison to the state owned correction facilities. There have continued to thrive the prison cultures and in effect influenced the way the prisoners relate to each other and even relate to the correctional officers. This prison culture will be the focus of this paper and the case study selected is the Corcoran State Prison.

The activity here is a visit to the Corcoran State Prison to have a look at the predominant practices also referred to as prison culture that thrives within the prison, the means by which these cultures are propagated and the effects that they have on the concerned people mainly psychologically but also socially and financially.


The main objective of this analysis will be to show how rooted the prison culture is within the Corcoran State Prison (CSP) and the effects that prison culture has on the inmates within this prison and what they do or try to do in order to cope wit the prison culture.

Significance of the event

The real motivation behind the study of the prison culture and the effects is the high fatality rates that have been recorded within the American prisons according to the latest statistics. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2011:Pp 1-2), there was a general increase in the number of deaths within the American prisons occasioned by different issues. The department indicated that between 2001 and 2008, there was a 20% increase in the number of deaths within the prison with 2,877 in 2001 and 3,452 in 2008 being the actual numbers. There was however a slight dip in the death in 2009 of 1% which is deemed insignificant decrease bearing the percentage increase experienced there before. The interest in this project was further raised by the predominant cause of death which was noted to be suicide at 29% of all the deaths and 7% being from drugs intoxication, both factors that have to do with the prison cultures and the psychological disposition of the prisoners. It is worth noting here that the rate of suicide cases among the males is seen to be generally higher than the suicide cases among the female inmates and this difference may be due to the prison culture differences between the males and the female prisons hence the importance of understanding the culture of this prison and knowing how it affects the inmates.


In the study of the cultures within this prison and the way the inmates relate to the officers inside the facility as opposed to the outside world could not have been successful were it not for the participation of the members of staff within the Corcoran State Prison. The participation of the inmates that rook part cannot also be undermined and the administration too were a significant stakeholder in this event. The Staff and the administration were more motivated to help in this event due to the fact that the results could be of help to them in understanding more about the inmates and how best they can help improve their living standards. The inmates also volunteered information with the motivation that once the information is received by the administration and the outside world, it will help in improving the living conditions within the prison.

Event setting

The setting of the event being within the perimeters of CSP was well targeted and significant since it allowed for the direct observation of the cultures within the prison and hear them from those who participate in creation and suffer the consequences of the cultures. It was the best setting bearing the kind of information that was needed could not be obtained elsewhere better than from the people who are directly involved.

History of CSP

Corcoran State Prison (CSP) is an adult prison that was commissioned in 1988 to handle criminals of all caliber, indeed it was designed as a maximum security prison. It is meant to handle some of the most hardcore criminal in California. This institution hosts seven facilities within it with a 75 bed capacity medical facility that runs on a 24 hours basis. It was the first prison in California to have a dedicated section with extra security features to isolate those criminals that were deemed dangerous to the smooth running of the institution or even a threat to other inmates, a housing type that is referred to as Security housing Unit (SHU). The inmates who are moved to the SHU are those who have participated in murder within the institution, participated in gang activities or assaulted another inmate or the security officers. Apparently the numbers residing in the SHU in Corcoran is high and currently pegged at 21% of the inmates held within this facility (David R. Shaw, 2009:Pp5).

The prison culture

The main stakeholders in the formation and implementation of cultures in prisons are the inmates and the administration or the correction officers. Prisons as institutions have been known over time to develop their own cultures that define them and shape their daily running. There is a world that is coined up behind the walls that help in the running of the activities especially among the inmates and to some extent affects or involves the security personnel within these facilities. Corcoran has some cultures and practices that make it distinct from other prisons and these largely affect the psychology of many inmates in a negative manner. As noted above, one of the leading single cause of death is suicide as well as drug related cases like overdose. This is a clear indication that the social psychology of the inmates is dented in a way and need to be well understood in relation to the prison culture.

In as much as the Corcoran prison acclaims to be "commitment by providing it's employees with the proper training, tools and safe working environment, but also by encouraging ideas and collaboration between all departments" (California State Prison, Corcoran, 2013), there are cultures that not only affect the inmates but the employees as well.

One of the practices or cultures in this prison that affect that social psychology of the inmates in the solitary confinement, also referred to ash SHU above. Once one is subjected to long-term solitary confinement they lose sense of belonging to the society, they lose the human side of them since they are locked up for up to 22 hours in small cubicles without interaction with the fellow inmates nor the outside world like visitors. It is noted that of the average of 34 suicides per year in this prison between the years 2006 and 2010, a significant 42% of the suicides was among the solitary confinement prisoners (Rodriguez S., 2012). Apart from the social isolation that brings trauma on the inmates, these solitary confinement inmates are often pressured to give information on other gang embers and the gang activities. This process known as debriefing is very stressful since if discovered may end killed. Indeed there have been records of inmates committing suicide while undergoing debriefing.

The visit and study of the trends and cultures within the prison also noted that many inmates got into gangs within the prison as a way of coping with the strenuous conditions within the prison, the threat of insecurity and vulnerability from other inmates as well as for financial gains since it is gangs that control drug trade and trafficking within the prison wall. The gangs are also propagated by the ethnic profiling that goes on within the prison walls. Prisoners realize that they need to cope with inmates from other ethic origins and in the process they want to forge their own identity. This pushes them to get into groupings based on the ethnicity for instance the Latinos on their own, African-Americans on their own and such like groupings. This was a culture that was predominantly noted within this prison.

It was also noted that the prisoners also had a way of coping with the diversity that existed within the prison. This was specifically noted among the SHU inmates who are completely cut off from the outside contact, they were denied direct access to even their visitors in a bid to stop them from getting drugs, phones and other contrabands. They resolve to using the other inmates not on SHU to hurl these contrabands into the cages where they are allowed short periods of rest and exercise.

The inmates are also exposed…

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