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Zach Quessenberry
Mrs. Funk
Inquiry Skills 2-3
15 April 2014
The Effect of Prison on Inmates
The great British prime minister during World War II, Winston Churchill, said that
Treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of civilization of any
country As long as we have social enemies, those who are mentally different from the general
population, there will always be prisons. Although individuals who are placed into these minimal
to maximum security correctional facilities often have earned their place by breaking the law, the
modern prison system is a harsh environment that tests even the most dangerous men and
women. Factors that affect prison inmates behavior include violence between prison inhabitants,
abuse of correctional tools, disease and illnesses, and overcrowding.
Violence in Prison
Violence between prison inhabitants is a scenario that is all too common in most U.S.
prisons, as it can be instigated by either an inmate or a guard. The major forms of violence that
occur in these correctional institutions include homicide, rape, assault, and numerous other
physical and sexual acts of aggression. Author Roger Smith states that In U.S. prisons, inmate
attacks on prison staff has risen 50 percent since the early 1990s. (Smith 66). Several prisoners
learn violence while serving time in detention, as daily fights are common. These daily routines
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encourage prisoners to learn how to be aggressive, give orders, and fight in order to earn their
way to the top. Sexual acts of violence are also an unpleasant subject of prison life, the most
common being inmate-to-inmate rape. A study done on four Midwestern states prisons reported
that one in five male prisoners reported a forced or pressured sexual act while in prison.
(Smith 74) Prison rape is a topic that has had such an impact on prison society that it has been
brought to the Supreme Court in cases such as Farmer v. Brennan, in which judges discussed the
devastating effects of the act. Because prisoners in higher security prisons often have little
communication with one another, it opens them up to attack from their correctional officers who
in some cases have proven to be more threatening than any prison gang.
Along with violence, inmates also face several forms of abuse from prison guards. Abuse
is often linked with the misuse of objects and violent actions towards inmates, such as pepper
spray and the infamous torture chair. An article about prison abuse titled Prison Nation: The
Warehousing of Americas Poor illustrates the event in which a mentally ill was killed by the
carelessness of his correctional officers. The man was sprayed with pepper spray and left in a
restraining chair, without rinsing out the spray, and within 20 minutes the man was dead. (Smith
84) Other forms of prisoner restraint include strait jackets, chemical sprays, and electric shocks,
all which can become deadly if not treated properly. Canisters of pepper spray often come in
sizes of fire extinguishers, allowing guards to use extensive amounts of the harmful spray on
inmates. Most inmates accept that abuse is simply a fact of life in prisons, but some do attempt
to take action. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, nearly 40,000 inmate lawsuits
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were filed in 1995 against prison officials for alleged civil rights violations, most of which were
dismissed by judges and court officials as frivolous. (Engdahl) Although poor relationships
between officers and inmates are far more common, it is possible for the two groups to find a
form of middle ground in order to relieve some of the pressure of their conditions.
Unfortunately, inmates and correctional officers are not the only possible threats the inmates may
Disease and Illnesses
Diseases in prisons are another topic that are often overlooked due to lack of knowledge.
Author Roger Smith states that Approximately one in every six prisoners in the United States is
mentally ill. (Smith 45) These mentally ill inmates often suffer from a range of mental illnesses
including schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder and often do not receive the treatment
needed. Mentally ill inmates can ultimately present danger to themselves through self-harm and
even suicide in some cases, mainly because most U.S. prisons were not specialized for the
mentally ill. Several deadly diseases can also spread through prisons, the most common being
HIV and Hepatitis C, both of which can be spread through the use of drugs and needles and
sexual attacks. According to Maruschak in HIV in Prisons and Jails, 2002 (Bureau of Justice
Statistics, December 2004), the number of HIV-positive inmates hit its highest level in 1999
(25,801). (Wiloch )This frightening statistic demonstrates just how many inmates are affected by
the deadly virus and unable to receive treatment due to lack of leadership, logistical barriers,
limited resources, and correctional policies. Another common and deadly virus in most U.S.
prisons is Hepatitis C, which is most commonly spread through unsterile needles used for tattoos
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and drugs. Similar to the HIV virus, most prisoners are not able to receive proper care because of
lack of awareness.
Overcrowding in a prison simply means that there are more inmates held in the prison
than it was originally built to contain. Author and former inmate in a Nevada state Prison Jimmy
Lerner writes about the confined space in his eight by six by twelve prison cell, and how the
conditions severely deteriorated after another inmate was introduced. (Smith 31) According to
Prisons and Jails: A Deterrent to Crime, U.S. federal prisons were at 26 percent above capacity
in 1995 and 31 percent over capacity in 2000. (Smith 33) Overcrowding of prisons can lead to
several physical threats to inmates, as it increases inmate interaction. Most correctional facilities
strive to isolate prisoners depending on the level of their crimes, and those in high class prisons
can be placed at risk when grouped with one or more inmates in the same enclosed space for
prolonged periods of time. According to Sylvia Engdalhs What can be done about Prison
Overcrowding , Nearly 14,000 inmates are sleeping in three-tier bunks set up in converted
classrooms or gyms, so close together that each prisoner has only six square feet of living
space. Not only does overcrowding increase discomfort and inmate interaction, but it may also
have physiological effects such as paranoia and claustrophobia, which can be linked to increased
violence and aggravation in inmates.
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In the modern United States, federal and state prisons place inmates in harsh conditions such as
violence, abuse, overcrowding, and disease. Rivalries between gangs and races encourage
violence between inmates, while abuse of suppression methods such as pepper spray kill and
wound. Between mentally ill inmates and those with HIV or Hepatitis C most are unable to
receive the proper treatment, and when combined with the largely overcrowded prison
atmosphere can also lead to death. These factors are a constant issue in modern prison society
and can eventually impact the general population in certain cases where inmates are released
more violent and unstable than they were before being arrested. These circumstances allow those
who are able to impact the prison system to understand the current conditions and what changes
can be made in order to improve our system.
"How Maximum Security Jails Make the Baddest of Men Even Worse." Crime and
Punishment: Essential Primary Sources. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner.
Detroit: Gale, 2006. 37-42. Gale Power Search. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
"Inmate Health." Prisons and Jails: A Deterrent to Crime?. Ed. Thomas Wiloch. 2006
ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 2006. Information Plus Reference Series. Gale Power Search.
Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
"Preface to 'Are Inmates' Constitutional Rights Disregarded in American Prisons?'."
Prisons. Ed. Sylvia Engdahl. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Current Controversies.
Gale Power Search. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
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"Prisons: Prison Violence." Violence in America. Ed. Ronald Gottesman and Richard
Maxwell Brown. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999. Gale Power Search. Web.
25 Mar. 2014.
Smith, Roger. Prison Conditions: Overcrowding Disease, Violence, and Abuse.
Philadelphia: Mason Crest, 2007. Print.
"Preface to 'What Can Be Done About Prison Overcrowding?'." Prisons. Ed. Sylvia
Engdahl. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Current Controversies. Gale Power Search.
Web. 28 Apr. 2014.