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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 97387 Find in a Library
Title: Imposition of Despair - An Ethnography of Women in Prison
Journal: Journal of Crime and Justice  Volume:7  Dated:(1984)  Pages:101-129
Author(s): S Mahan
Date Published: 1984
Page Count: 29
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This ethnographic study found that the prison subculture fosters helplessness, powerlessness, dependency, and despair among female inmates, but certain measures can help relieve these conditions.
Abstract: Study data came from observations and interviews with the inmates of two minimum-security women's prisons in New Mexico. The results were considered in the context of Edward Hall's theory that all cultures are formed upon 10 primary bases. These bases, which are called primary message systems, are interaction, association, subsistence, ambisexuality, territoriality, temporality, learning, play, defense, and exploitation. The controls imposed in prison resulted in the distortion of all 10 elements. Prisoners ordered their relationships through talk or silence and through play, the two elements which provided a measure of personal control. However, alienation characterized the prisoners, few of whom learned adjustment patterns applicable to life outside the prison. The focus on 'doing time' imposed by the sentence limited the potential to begin anew. The despair imposed on the prisoners makes them members of a subculture of criminals and more likely to turn to crime in the future. The study findings have implications for the continuing study of women, correctional planning and policy, and the use of total institutionalization. Three notes and 21 references are supplied.
Index Term(s): Adjustment to prison; Effects of imprisonment; Female inmates; Inmate attitudes; New Mexico; Prisonization
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