Analysis Of Prison Violence Criminology Essay

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The issue of violence is a significant topic in psychology with psychologists focusing on how individual attributes might interact with the social environment to create a violent event. This paper presents an analysis of violence by explaining situational and socio-psychological factors. I will briefly review some of the significant psychological theories that have tried to explain violent behavior. I will also provide a critical perspective of violence by exploring these theories of violence.


Psychological theories of violence and aggression are based on a long-standing question about whether human beings are naturally violent or benign. Violent and aggressive behavior by one individual to another is not a new occurrence. It was prevalent among the Roman and Greek societies centuries ago, among most scholars in the last two centuries, and presently, in almost every society. Events such as the Colorado school shootings, and terrorist attacks make people question human empathy; but through technology has made violence easier to achieve, it is disbelieving that individuals are more prone to be violent presently than centuries ago. Currently, the frequency of violent and aggressive behavior is sufficient to make it a social issue worthy of attention around the globe.


Explanations for violence noticeably vary between disciplines. Current literature focuses on the link between anger and physical violence, aggression, the individual and predisposing factors, economic and social factors and situational factors. It has been concerned with explaining violence, particularly male violence.

Psychosocial explanations highlight that violence and aggression are learned behaviors in reaction to frustration, to accomplish goals, and by watching violent behavior. They point to cognitive learning skills, personality factors, early child development, socialization, and to wider cultural and social factors such as race, poverty, and role of situational factors, predisposing factors and activating factors. Nevertheless, there has been a growing recognition of the need to consider environmental and situational factors, and their interaction with personal factors, instead of demographic factors or personality characteristics ( ).

Psychologists tend to stress the role of situational and personal causes of violence. Baumeister ( ) provides a review of some of these factors:

Use of violence as a means toward some end, for instance status, sex, power and so on

Threat to overly inflated and fragile ego

Idealistic fanaticism

Conformity or obedience to other people engaged in violent actions

In addition to this, Zimbardo highlights the significance of classic social psychological research implying how larger social systems and powerful situations influence people to perform violent actions particularly in the Holocaust. Psychologists, in this manner often propose that individuals may release some of their natural tendency to judge others for their violent actions. After all, if people found themselves in the same situations, then they might find themselves doing the exact same violent acts ( ).

A dichotomy that deserves attention due to its popularity throughout contemporary personality and social psychology, as well as modern and historical theories of violence and aggression, is the distinction between situational and personological factors. Personological causes include whatever the individual brings to the present situation, factors such as beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral tendencies. Situational causes are features of the current situation that increase violence, factors such as a presence of a weapon, an insult, or an uncomfortable temperature. Both types might be considered as proximate causal factors, because both are present in the present situation ( ). Situational factors, that is, inhibitors or instigators of aggression, and personological factors, that is, preparedness to aggress combine in a difficult ways to establish what behavior will surface. The right situation may provoke most individuals to behave aggressively; however, some individuals are more likely to aggress than other people.

Almost the only explanations that have been conventionally used to explain violent crime, especially on women are biological. These explanations have continued to stress on hormonal factors. However, there is very little empirical evident that supports the association with violence and hormonal factors such as PMS. Nevertheless, at the court level, violent crimes by women have been explained in terms of personality disorder, mental instability, character defect or psychosis ( ).

Recently, there has been a huge focus on trying to explain and understand women's violence and aggression, instead of focusing on violence in general, or as a mostly male activity. Whereas the result of violence by women and men might be actually similar, the meaning of that aggression is observed as different, resulting from a different chain of factors leading up to it, a different model of upbringing, and different reactions to its use by the observers and the user. A lot of literature of understanding violence of women has focused on women in common or everyday situations, and in relationships, and it highlights the critical significance of upbringing patterns and socialization.

In a broad range study of women and anger in common situations ( ), notes that a great deal of prior work on the origins of anger is based on the males and on experiments, and has failed to consider the basic differences in the ways women and men express anger.

Campbell ( ) focuses on women's use of aggression and violence, initially in attempting to understand the aggressive behavior of delinquent girls and female prisoners. A notable issue Campbell raises is how do most women prisoners avoid fighting? Campbell outlines some of the significant ways in which both men and women understand and use aggression and anger, by identifying the gendered nature of their origins and expression. She argues that for men, violence is a way of exerting control over other individuals when they feel the need to reclaim self-esteem. For women, aggression is a temporary loss of control caused by a lot of pressure and resulting in guilt. Additionally, she states that for women, aggression is a failure of self-control and for men, a way of imposing control and one which seldom results in guilt.

Campbell further argues that contemporary psychological theories have always battled to institute a single theory of aggression, however, it should now be recognized that separate theories are needed to explain women's and men's aggression. Therefore, in tracing some of the sociological and psychological explanations for aggression, Campbell differentiates between women's aggression as expressive and men's aggression as instrumental.

Expressive theories of violence and aggression stress on socialization factors and the developments of personal controls over basic instincts if we fail to stop them. We are taught earlier on to control our instincts, and to develop self-control. By contrast, instrumental theories imply that individuals use violence because of the clear benefits it offers and not because they simply lose control. These might include social rewards such as material rewards, respect or a bolstering of self-image ( ). Such instrumental violence has been described as the use of threats to have demands met.

Campbell argues that the process by which people come to understand violence is based on everyday theories that guide their perception of violent behavior that is, men seeing it as a challenge, and women as stressful. Such social representations are reinforced and learned all through life, in very different ways for women and men.

However, Campbell in her analysis of women aggression and violence fails to mention the impact of situational risk factors. Situational risk factors are aspects of the institution in which the violent event occurs. Situational risk factors might be broadly construed to include elements of institutions, current and previous levels of disharmony and violence, the physical environment, its organizational ethos, and institution's skills and knowledge in managing those it is designed to contain ( ). By considering the effect of situational factors on violence, Campbell might have achieved a more comprehensive view of violence.

On the other hand, Gilligan argues that behavioral violence differs from structural violence in three significant respects. Adding to its virtual invisibility, structural violence functions independently of individual behaviors; its problematic effects function continuously, not sporadically ( ). Gilligan's structural focus is evident in his theory of shaming. He suggests that excessive shame destroys self-esteem, and in turn, causes a collapse of the self. Gilligan argues that such 'soul murder' as a significant underlying cause of violence. Shame, whether rooted in psychological or physical abuse can destroy a person's personality in ways that are highly likely to lead to violent behavior later. In addition to this, even though the results of soul murder plays out at the individual level, its roots are present in societal institutions, especially, in the social class system and in definitions of gender roles, particularly masculinity. The gender role association is probably more straightforward, given the aggression component in male gender definitions ( ).

A notable challenge for modern violence studies is to disentangle these structural roots of violence, and build up sociological imaginations for identifying violence in structures and in individual behavior. Integrating structural elements of violence will significantly stretch the explanation of violence to a point where consequential analysis can be conducted. This brings to mind, the question of what place does morality have in violence studies?

Moral approaches to violence does not help is understand the prevention and causes of violence; and unfortunately, some of the ethical assumptions about violence in reality hinder our efforts to learn about its causes and prevention ( ). Popular ethical ways of thinking about violence often lead to the flawed conclusion that to comprehend violence is to excuse it. It is less threatening and easier to criticize violence both legally and morally so that we can punish it, instead of seeking its causes and working to prevent it ( ).

Moral arguments make it quite easy to reprimand violent offenders, and thus, they are justifiably attractive. But, they also block the evaluation required to develop effective prevention. Because this hinders prevention, Gilligan backs a non-moralistic approach that does not oppose or support the forgiveness of violent behavior ( ).

There are various problems with the afro mentioned explanations of violence. In her study, Campbell focuses on a limited rather than a broadened number of detailed empirical regularities of violence. Secondly, Campbell's study represents one directional formulations of violence that split causation of violence into categories or constrained acts of violence. Gilligan's study ignores any explanation for the interconnections between individual forms of violence. Both Gilligan and Campbell have failed to consider the factors involved in the desistance of violence and antisocial behavior.