Theories of prison violence and behavior are often divided into the indigenous model or importation model. This paper utilizes Irwin and Cressey's (1962) importation model and integrates it with elements of Miller's (1958) theory of a lower-class subculture explain prison violence. The paper also examines other relevant theories of violent subcultures to enhance the argument that most prison violence is not indigenous to the prison but is brought to the institution as part of a pre-existing value.
Most academics and criminologists do not argue with the contention that prisons are a unique environment that differs from mainstream society in language, norms, and behavior. Is this difference, however, a product of a deviant subculture that existed before incarceration or a product of adapting to institutional life? Violence in correctional institutions is an issue of great concern since it is not only an issue of inmate on inmate violence, but also aggressive behavior directed at institutional staff members. A careful examination of theoretical perspectives on violent behavior can offer insight into the subculture of the prison and the hatred and anger within its walls. It may provide us with beneficial and important strategies with which to reduce incidents of assault as well as an understanding of why this violence occurs.
The discussions that follow offer an example of the utility of integrated theory in the study of crime and delinquent behavior. Specifically, this paper integrates Irwin and Cressey's (1962) importation model with elements of Miller's (1958) theory of a lower-class subculture and applies the newly integrated theory to explain prison violence. Other relevant theories of violent subcultures are also exmined to enhance the argument that most prison violence is not indigenous to the prison but is brought to the institution as part of a pre-existing value.
An Overview of Prison Violence
Bowker (1983) believed that prison violence comes from a lack of internal social control and an imperfect and overburdening external social control. Those inmates who had well-developed consciences would have already been filtered out of the criminal justice system, so prisons are filled with inmates prone to violence and who have a not been socialized to resist violence (Bowker, 1983). Bowker (1983) also noted that prison violence may either be instrumental or expressive. Instrumental violence is a more rational violence, occurring to achieve power or control and having a tangible outcome or reward. Expressive prison violence is spontaneous and is not rational. It may serve to reduce stress or tension, but does not serve to produce any long-term goal achievement (Bowker, 1983).
Coinciding with Sykes (1958) discussion of the pains of imprisonment, Kratcoski (1988) argued that prison life is so barren and there are so few pleasures to be enjoyed, that any small interference of these privileges by guard or inmate may result in outbursts of violence. Toch (1977) reported an inmate's perceptions of prison violence whereby "a guy subconsciously, he inherits all of this in his mind. And he starts acting like this too. Not that he wants to, but he be around day and night, around people like this here, and he start acting like that too. Acting like an uncivilized people" (Toch, 1977: 17). Violence is the product of three interacting sets of variables:
(1) the aggressor (personality, needs, concerns, perceptions),
(2) the victim (personality, needs, concerns, perceptions, etc.), and
(3) the situation (the human and physical environment in which the incident is taking place (Gibbs, 1981).
Light (1991) developed a preliminary set of categories to describe the interactional settings in which prisoners assault prison officers. The first category is known as "the unexplained." Over twenty-five percent of the assaults examined had no apparent reason or motive for the aggressive behavior (Light, 1991). Goffman (1961) also noted that prisoners in a total institution will attempt to hide the motives behind activities. Although unknown to the guard or officer these attacks may also serve the greater cause of unrest or unhappiness due to incarceration (Bowker, 1980). Another category offered by Light (1991) is that of "officer command." This category encompasses those situations in which an inmate reacted with violence when asked to perform a specific task. A "protest" assault occurs when an inmate believes that unjust