Measures need to be put in place to prevent prison violence

Kati Gardella, Crier Staff

Society needs to care more about the sad reality of prison violence. Although detained, prisoners are still human and it is unethical to turn a blind eye to their suffering. The environment of prison breeds tension and violence, as people are incarcerated against their will, and detained in a forced community.

This can produce a strain on social interactions among inmates, especially in a population that has been labeled as untrustworthy. There is a permeating mindset that fellow inmates are dangerous, and that one must be extremely self-protective.

In 1980, around fifty-four inmates out of every hundred thousand were killed in prison. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2001 and 2010, the homicide rate in prison was around three killed out of every hundred thousand inmates.

Although the figures have dropped greatly, prison violence is still a prevalent issue.

For instance, in 2015 at Winn Correctional Center, a state prison for men in Louisiana, one hundred and fourteen makeshift weapons were found on inmates in the course of five months. Also at Winn, twelve stabbings occurred within only two months.

Various studies have generalized that during a one-month period, 10-20% of prisoners are assaulted, and 33% are threatened with assault.

Male inmates tend to use instrumental aggression to establish a reputation of power. Violence produces fear, which leads to admiration and protection in the prison environment.

Female inmates are more likely to be expressively aggressive, and relationally aggressive rather than physical. They are more likely to only lash out when they feel immediately threatened.

Prisoners have restrictions on their possessions, but have utilized innovation to make unorthodox weapons. Handmade knives, known as shanks, are commonly used.

Razors provided for hygiene are also popular weapons. It is common for an inmate to hide a razor inside their mouth when they suspect an attack coming, so that they can easily defend themselves.

Inmates are more likely to carry makeshift weapons in maximum security prisons, as the population has committed more serious offenses, and they believe that more protection is necessary. On the flip side, if inmates are in a lower security institution, they are less likely to engage in violence, as the threat of being transferred to a stricter institution and experiencing a further loss of liberty is a deterrent.

The emergence of gang culture and increased drug usage in prison increases violence levels.

Prison gangs are labelled as Security Threat Groups by prison officials, and often, those with a past of violence and manipulation, such as gang leaders are often placed in solitary confinement to assure that they will not negatively influence others. Despite these preventative measures, prison gangs still form.

These groups attempt to achieve dominance through violent acts, many of which are pre-meditated. Potential targets are put on a list, and are often forewarned of upcoming attacks. A warning of the attack raises levels of fear and paranoia, and places power in the hands of the gangs.

Prison overcrowding also increases the rate of violence. Overcrowding leads to insufficient prison resources, and this lack generates competition and tension.

Frances Cook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, states that “cutting staff and prison budgets while allowing the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked has created a toxic mix of violence, death and human misery …”  Having too many inmates and not enough resources is a dangerous combination.

Prisons have already taken preventative measures against violence with the presence of guards and surveillance cameras. Despite this, it is impossible to supervise every area of the institution.

Inmates use creative communication to not garner suspicion from officials, to plan violent attacks. In some cases, prisoners have even used the drainage pipes between connecting cells to have conversations they wish to keep discreet.

Seasoned inmates have gauged what are known as the “blind spots” in security. They know which areas are less protected, and the times of day where they are under less supervision.

An act of violence can only occur with a motivated offender, a suitable target, and lack of capable guardianship.

With so many means of exhibiting violent behavior, violence is only preventable by shifting the mindset of the inmates. This can be achieved through promoting friendships and providing resources. It is much better for inmates to try to find support in each other and build kinship, rather than offend against each other and have time tacked on to their sentence.

Resources other than increased security are necessary, as inmates have repeatedly shown that they can work around surveillance. Such resources include more drug therapy, correctional officers, vocational and educational programs, and mental health resources. Spiritual resources for inmates are also helpful, as engaging in religious practice gives inmates a sense of morality.

Connection-building is essential, as it is much harder to offend against someone that you view as an equal. Building positive relationships is a necessary skill for when inmates leave prison.