Social Behavior and the Environment

Social Environments and Aggression within Prisons

Rajbir Kaur

Chrystal Garcia

Therese Marie Vu

Steve Kim

University of California, Merced

November 21, 2011

Social Environments and Aggression within Prisons


Conduct problems and delinquency create a burden on society as a whole. Costing around $20 billion a year, the number of people in U.S. prisons has risen tremendously over the past few decades, with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society. History has shown that individuals who have social behavior problems are more likely to pass on aggressive traits to their children through harsh parenting. Consequently, contributing to the never ending cycle of imprisonment. Previous research has found that the environment plays a large role in social behaviors such as aggression. Those with aggression tend to have many conduct problems and become the delinquents of society. We can partially distribute the origins of these problems and dangerous social behaviors to an individuals environment.

In the context of social interactions, research showed that the interactions between the prisoners and guards have negative psychological affects on the inmates. These effects embed themselves in the prisoners and later manifest themselves in their parenting styles. Similarly, we have found that negative parenting practices have contributed to childhood aggression. In both cases, the authoritative figures display inhospitable attitudes towards the individual who developed conduct problems. In respect to physical environmental factors, we have found that some of the current prisons’ interior structures and lights are having negative influences on inmates’ mood and social behaviors. Guards are only focused on the purpose of having authoritative control over prisoners and do not respect them as individual human beings. This type of relationship causes tension amongst each other and dehumanizes both parties.

For our research, we would like to explore ways to eradicate this problem. To do so, we would first restructure the prison itself by creating a more ideal living space that respects individual human beings as opposed to isolating them. Secondly, in this new environment we would use the Multi-Model Intervention System (MMIS) to give effective treatments for their aggression. Teaching inmates effective parenting styles would reduce the risk of conduct disorders in children and diminish aggressive behaviors. Similarly, training prison guards to effectively monitor and communicate with inmates in ways that would once again humanize the relationship between the guards and the inmates. It is our hope that by creating this new environment, we could diminish negative social behaviors and help former inmates become contributing members of society.

Prison Environment and Social Behavior

Prisons are hostile environments in which individuals are crowded into small spaces and their every move is being monitored by authoritarian guards. The mistreatment by the guards is often times due to frustration and a need to maintain order in the prison. With so much overcrowding it is difficult for the guards to watch all of the inmates and they resort to aggression to assert their authority. However, instead of helping, this only escalates the problem because the prisoners will likely rebel against the guards when they feel that they are being mistreated. This leads to tension between the guards and the prisoners as well as amongst each other.

Violent offenders and non-violent offenders share the same space creating tension that can lead to aggression. Research shows that even non-violent offenders who are incarcerated for long periods of time will become aggressive. They are surrounded by so much violence that they must set aside their sense of humanity and become like everyone else to survive. This can become a problem for the individuals when they are released and return to their families. The only interaction they experience when they are in prison is with guards and other prisoners making it difficult for them to relate to others or to know how to deal with the problems that come with raising children or maintaining relationships. They become overwhelmed and the aggression that they developed in prison manifests itself in their parenting styles and in the way they interact with others. Negative parenting styles can then lead to child conduct disorders which will lead to aggression in the child and begin a cycle that will affect not only the individuals, but also society as a whole. By eliminating aggression in parents, the probability of the child developing a conduct disorder will be reduced. By reducing conduct disorders, we then reduce delinquency and the incarceration rates will be much lower for future generations.

Interior Design and Human Mood

The interior as a unit is where the individual spends most of the time living or working, and therefore is closely related to human behavior. Therefore, this research has its purpose on proposing how interior design has effect on human mood changes and their social behaviors closely, and to examine how peoples’ emotional status and behavior such as aggressiveness can be adjusted by changing their environment.

Although the main purpose of putting the convict in solitude was originally to make him reflect on his act and become aware of his crime instead of physical punishment, it seems more likely to have power and control over them, mentally torturing.  The interior where the focus is on confinement of the human being tend to have the lack of detail in the form of decoration. Based on Mlicka, having a single window strengthened the desire of freedom, which cannot be satisfied, will make the atmosphere inside even harder to endure.  As well as the structure of the interior, the aesthetic conditions in the space also have effects on the human mood and their reactions. Mintz’s early study, the Beautiful Room Study, showed that in the long-term effects on participants, the participants in the room with battleship-gray walls and less furniture, decorations, and lighting were more likely to complain of monotony, fatigue, and headaches and showed irritability and hostility.

Using these findings as a foundation, this research will focus on providing a better understanding of the effect of interior structure and lights on the people in the prison, and to improve its environmental settings to help their emotional stability and behaviors after their time.

Negative Parenting Practices and Child Aggression

Previous research shows that negative parenting practices can affect the children’s behavior, making them aggressive.  It is very important for the parents to understand how to treat their child during the early years of development. If the child is being mistreated, he/she is more likely to develop social behavior disorders. This is the case because they feel like no one cares about them and the best way to cope is to turn towards aggression, that way no one can hurt them.  It is also important that parents are not overprotective and controlling because when they are, the child feels like they have no freedom of doing the things they wish to, therefore they tend to do things that they should not, such as getting into fights and arguments with their peers.

Parents who are authoritative – who solve disciplinary problems by physical and verbal punishments- are also responsible for the child’s negative behaviors. They are less likely to explain to their children the reason behind their demands or punishment, same with the guards at the prisons, they give punishment without the prisoner knowing what they did wrong.  When they receive punishment after behaving badly they associate that punishment with negativity and keep the anger inwards.  They will then go and try to take the anger out on the other people and if this continues most of their childhood, they will grow up to be aggressive. This factor ties in with our prospectus since the guards at the prisons are authoritative when it comes to dealing with prisoners and they give them non- human treatment. When these prisoners get bailed out they become frustrated and aggressive which impacts the ways they treat their children. This research can be useful for future because it helps us identify the patterns of how humans behave in certain situations, in this case the prisons.

Conduct Disorder Treatment: Multi-Model Intervention

Family factors that influence children’s conduct problems (CP) include poverty and stressful life events, as well as parental issues, such as mental illness and criminality. Through their impact on parenting, these factors are linked to CPs in children. Under difficult conditions, parents may engage in parenting strategies linked to CPs, including harsh and inconsistent discipline, poor monitoring and supervision, and low levels of warmth and involvement. Children’s behavior also influences parenting, as youth who present challenging behaviors may elicit less effective parenting. In regards to our current research proposal, we can use this research to outline key factors in inmate imprisonment. History has also shown that inmates that serve hard time tend to: go back into the system; pass off aggressive traits to their own children. Research has showed that the Multi-Model Intervention System (MMIS) method has been a successful treatment in diminishing aggressiveness and creating stronger parenting practices. Prevention and intervention programs for CPs must account for risk factors in multiple contexts, including both the authoritative and individual level.

On the individual level,  social-cognitive processing techniques could be taught. For example, research has shown that by developing pro-social skills, perspective taking/interpersonal problem solving, and anger management tactics have helped reduce aggression. Also, parent management training or the families of former inmates could include positive parent-child interaction, monitoring, effective discipline and communication methods. By rehabilitating inmates with these social-cognitive skills and effective parenting styles we can hope to reduce the risk of conduct disorders in children and diminish aggressive behaviors.

Hypothesis Expanded
With this research, we hope to find more effective ways of rehabilitating inmates so that they can psychologically be better parents for their children when they leave the prison system. Ultimately, our goal is to break the sequences that often lead to an escalation of misconduct. Through our MMIS  which targets two levels, the individual and parent, we can improve the dynamics in these relationships for more quality interaction between inmates and parents and children. These drastic changes to the current prison system can also help our society move from only punishing the law-breakers to a goal of punishment with rehabilitation. In turn by teaching these inmates important social skills necessary to raise children properly, we can diminish imprisonment all together. Research Approach

Past research shows that mothers’ parenting styles have a great effect on children in the long-term. With this in mind our research will be longitudinal and will focus on female offenders with young children. Participants will be separated into two categories; violent and nonviolent offenders. Both groups will be placed in the same setting and will receive the same treatment. By treating both non-violent and violent inmates we can observe the differences and/or similarities in their responses to the environment and to the treatment. Three major changes will be made to the prison system. First, prisons will be restructured to minimize the aggressive behaviors, and to stabilize their mood swings by creating a warmer environment.  The interior design with less sharp corners, and lower lighting to produce lower arousal, and increase calmness and more decorations on the wall other than cold battleship-gray color, such as warm beige.  The remodeling will also create .better counseling room condition with home-like decorations and dim lighting to provide positive impression and feeling.  Second, we will use the MMIS model on inmates to better prepare them for life post-bail. The first part of the model focuses on enhancing five central authoritative/parenting dimensions: skill encouragement, monitoring, problem solving, positive involvement, and effective discipline. Among the many behaviors to which parents expose their children, effective discipline is one of the most important dimensions in reducing acting-out behavior in children with conduct problems. Effective discipline represents a constructive means of discouraging deviant behavior through the appropriate and contingent use of mild sanctions and by providing the child with clear boundaries for acceptable behavior.The second part of the MMIS model teaches inmates different coping mechanisms and anger management techniques to help them deal with their aggression as well as communication skills. Aggressive individuals identify goals of dominance and revenge in social situations, view aggression as an acceptable and effective strategy, and have difficulty using verbal assertion and compromise when faced with social problems. Since individuals with CPs tend to become angry or upset prior to engaging in aggression, awareness of these emotions can help them identify triggers and subsequently use a coping strategy, such as distraction, deep breathing, coping statements, and engaging in enjoyable activities. Skill practice constitutes an important component of virtually all interventions for aggression. Role playing provides individuals with exposure to realistic situations that provoke anger and challenges them to enact the skills they have learned.Over the course of their stay, they will work with counselors in their rehabilitation processes. Counseling will also be available for guards to make sure that their interactions with inmates are humane. Upon release date, we will follow-up with the inmate mothers and their children until the children become 18 to access their CP levels and examine the validity of our hypothesis.

Drawing Conclusions
With our past research implications, we conclude that it is possible to diminish aggressive cycles and imprisonment through the better structured prison system. If there is better light and more space in the cells then the individuals are less likely to associate negative feelings with environment. Aggression in inmates makes the environment more stressful for guards as well because they must maintain order while also worrying about their safety as well as the safety of the inmates. This in turn leads to more aggression in the guards in means of maintaining control. By teaching inmates how to control or reduce their aggression and teaching guards how to better communicate with them, the environment will be less tense and stressful for both and treatment will be more effective. If the guards treat the prisoners like human beings, they will not feel the need to rebel thus creating less tension between them. Having less tension opens the door for more effective communication which will beneficial to the guards by making their job less difficult. The inmates can then take the skills they learned through their interaction and treatment in prison and apply it to their transition back into family life.
Expected Contribution to Knowledge
With incarceration rates sky-rocketing in recent years, this study will shed light on how the field of psychology can contribute to a solution to the problem of delinquency. This will provide an opportunity to re-establish the component of rehabilitation in the prison system. The results of this study would provide psychologists with the information necessary to begin addressing the deficiencies within the system. They would also provide insight into the origin of conduct disorders and possible factors that can be changed in order to prevent them from developing.
Expected Outcomes/Implications

Since this project requires a lot of reform in the current system, the appropriate audience for this research is the government, and businesses such as architecture companies and psychological services. We believe that these audiences can benefit a great deal from our research. Although we are starting out on a very small scale, if it is successful, we can save the government billions of dollars in the long-run by helping reduce overcrowding in the prisons and produce quality citizens. Second, it will create many jobs for reconstruction companies and psychological services. Ideally, architecture companies would see our project as a new business opportunity. Psychologists will be needed to provide services to the inmates and the guards for therapy and counseling. While our proposal is for a molecular scale change in the prison system. If there are positive results, the possibilities could be endless (i.e., diminishing the cycle of imprisonment; new industries will be generated that would be beneficial for both the government and society as a whole).

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