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A staggering number of African-Americans are incarcerated for a variety of criminal offences. Without having to review criminal statistics, African-Americans appear to lack the ability to adapt and/or become productive members of society compared to other races incarcerated. This is more than a stereotype and coincidence, other countries besides the United States have documented this phenomenon. Applying Agnew’s (1992) General Strain Theory (GST) to the emotional and social psychological development of African-Americans, society may better understand the motive, causation, and circumstances of crime pertaining to the African-American criminal thought process. I hypothesize this thought process to be a psychological condition requiring identification and intervention by the criminal justice system and correctional facilities. Investigation started by analyzing strains upon the African-American culture detailing afterwards the treatment of mentally ill African-American inmates as observed by the General Strain Theory and current physiological testing. A variety of social programs is available with positive interpersonal exposure and rebuilding of social skills/mindset, rehabilitating inmates to recognize, understand, and cope with strain.
General Strain Theory and Rehabilitation of Mentally Ill African-American Inmates
A staggering number of African-Americans are incarcerated for a variety of criminal offences. Without having to review criminal statistics, African-Americans appear to lack the ability to adapt and/or become productive members of society compared to other races incarcerated. This is more than a stereotype and coincidence, other countries besides the United States have documented this phenomenon.
Applying Agnew’s (1992) General Strain Theory (GST) to the emotional and social psychological development of African-Americans, society may better understand the motive, causation, and circumstances of crime pertaining to the African-American criminal thought process. I hypothesize this thought process to be a psychological condition requiring identification and intervention by the criminal justice system and correctional facilities.
Investigation started by analyzing strains upon the African-American culture detailing afterwards the treatment of mentally ill African-American inmates as observed by the General Strain Theory and current physiological testing. A variety of social programs is available with positive interpersonal exposure and rebuilding of social skills/mindset, rehabilitating inmates to recognize, understand, and cope with strain.
Kaufman, Rebellon, Thaxton, and Agnew (2008) produced an informative article that applied Agnew’s General Strain Theory to analyzing the motivational processes of African-Americans, beyond age, sex, or community, which leads them to criminal activity. This article evaluated the lives of African-American’s in totality and hypothesized a lack of coping mechanisms and outlets for daily and unrelenting stresses or strains.
A considerable amount of statistical information contained herein was gathered from various web sites and journals. The U.S. Department of Justice (2006, 2007) and the U.S. Department of Labor (2008) collected facts pertaining to crimes and the races in which they occurred within. While Elliott & Voss (1974), Williams & Gold (1972) did not find significant racial crime connections, Kelley, Huizinga, Thornberry, & Loeber (1997) with Snyder & Sickmund (2006) showed juveniles were prone to violence. Broadhurst and Tonry (1997) with Doone (2000) confirmed that other countries besides the United States experienced elevated criminal and correctional issues with indigenous populations of African-American decent. African-American plight can be traced back to mid-19th century by Du Bois (1899, 1904), Hawkins (1995).
Without the contributions of Hirschi (1969), Akers (1998), (Cohen & Felson, 1979) and others, theories such as the lifestyle theory, Walters’ (2005, 2007) Criminal Thinking Styles, and Doll’s & Ajzen’s (1992) theory of Planned Behavior, a comparative analysis would be incomplete. Credit must also go to Scobbie, Wyke, Dixon, (2009), Birgden (2004), Fallot (2001), Condelli, Bradigan, & Holanchock, (1997) for contributing their knowledge and research utilized in this report exploring mentally illnesses.
African-Americans have excessively represented a majority of the criminals in the U.S. since the mid-19th century (Du Bois, 1899, 1904; Hawkins, 1995). In 2006, the U.S. population was comprised of approximately 13% African-Americans, however they accounted for 28% of all offence arrests, 39.3% of violent crimes, 56.3% of robberies, and 50.9% of homicides (U.S. Department of Justice, 2007).
The U.S. Department of Justice (2006) reported that victims perceived 25.3% of singular criminals and 33.9% of criminals in multiple offender victimizations to be African-American according to the most recent statistics from the National Crime Victimization Survey. In robberies, offenders were perceived as African-American 47.7% of the time and 22% of the time with assaults (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). Disregarding the fact of perceived or speculative information obtained under the high stress of a criminal act by a victim, victimization data continued to parallel current arrest data.
Early self-reports did not convey significant findings between race and crime (Elliott & Voss, 1974; Williams & Gold, 1972), but recent reports show youths prone to violence (Kelley, Huizinga, Thornberry, & Loeber, 1997; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). Canada, New Zealand, and Australia also report abnormally high offenders from indigenous populations and African-Americans decent (Broadhurst, Tonry, 1997; Doone, 2000). Accounting for bias and discrimination, the overwhelming statistics of African-Americans to other races incarcerated do not coincide.
General Strain Theory
The GST offers an exemplary causation explanation of social and environmental factors contributing to African-American delinquency. The GST examines disproportional stressors/strains upon African-Americans as causations of criminal behavior whereas similar theories only provide for negative sociological (Hirschi, 1969) or poor acquaintance associations (Akers, 1998). Typically, hypotheses focus upon one factor as the causation of delinquency, the GST accounts for multiple strains upon an individual to explain criminal behavior.
A broad range of strains, according to Agnew (1992), can occur from failures or removal from positive outcomes, or the anticipation of negative stimuli, could possibly result in a criminal action to pacify the emotional trigger. Recent empirical testing showed strain and anger influencing violence (Agnew, 2006; Mazerolle & Piquero, 1997; Mazerolle, Burton, Cullen, Evans & Payne, 2000). African-American may experience higher levels of strain compared to other races, but it does inevitably conclude in crime. Variables such as coping skills, social support, and mental conditioning of an individual allow for escape from and defusing strain. Individuals whom possess exemplary social control (Hirschi, 1969) or whom do not associate with delinquent social circles (Akers, 1998) will be less likely to utilize criminal activity to cope with strain.
Agnew (2001) recently clarified strain is most conducive to crime when it was viewed as unjust e.g. excessive discipline, criminal victimization, and unpredictable parental supervision, particularly when combined with economic, educational, criminal, and discriminatory strains. These types of strains create the conditions for coping to occur through criminal activity.
Economic strains are prevalent amongst African-American communities with African-Americans likely to be of lower class income employed in the secondary labor market or unemployed (Conley, 2000; DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, & Smith, 2007; Gittleman & Wolff, 2004; Sullivan, 1998; U.S. Department of Labor, 2008). Robbery is the highest crime disproportionally observed among the African-American culture (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006, 2007) and possibly explains the situational need for supplemental income. Economic strain can be potentially interrupted as unjust, blamable upon society, and other external factors beyond an individual’s control, contributing to the continued plight of the African-American culture.
Family, educational, criminal, victimization, discrimination, and community strains rank amongst the top stressors of the African-American culture next to economic strain. These strains are so prevalent in occurrence it is understandable and reasonable to conclude there is little escape or relief from these strains.
Family strain is contributed to residency in impoverish areas, economics, secondary labor employment, and diminished family bonds contribute to the probability of poor parenting practices e.g. inappropriate/inconsistent discipline (Agnew et al., 2000; Patterson & Fergatch, 1990; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). This breakdown can contribute to diminished parental bonds with children with juvenile delinquency becoming the strain relief mechanism (Agnew et al, 2000; McLoyd, 1990; Patterson, 1982).
U.S. school systems contain a percentage of educators with low expectations of lower class student success (Cooper & Moore, 1995) with the placement of students, according to race, in lower educational programs without consideration of the individual’s academic ability (Irvine & York, 1993). This is a considerable strain upon developing African-American youths. Low rate educational programs alone effectively lessen mental development. These educational programs contain inferior curricula (Epps, 1995; Oakes, 1985). Associated/resulting from substandard educational practices of African-Americans are poor grades, unfair discipline, and poor/negative interpersonal relations with educators and students contributing to strain. These strains are observable with white students attending minority-segregated schools as their academic scores reflect substandard grades compared to white students in predominately-white schools (Bankston III & Caldas, 1996).
Criminal victimization pertains to crimes committed against African-Americans as compared to other races. Victimization amongst African-American compared to whites was 37.3% higher (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006) with 49.5% accounting for murder and non-negligent manslaughter (U.S. Department of Justice, 2007) of which 58% of murders occur before the age of 30 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). African-American children between the ages of 12-19 experienced violent crimes such as murder, rape, or robbery, 48% higher than white children of the same age (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). The burglary rate of African-American households was 22.4% higher than whites (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). Regardless of location, inner city or suburbia, the levels of victimization are consistent among African-Americans (Logan & Stults, 1999).
Discrimination is a strong negative that African-Americans experience frequently compared to whites and on many levels such as buying a house, car, seeking employment, education, or walking down the street (Ayres & Siegelman, 1995; Farrell & Jones, 1988; Feagin, 1991; Forman et. al., 1997; Kirschenman & Neckerman, 1991; Yinger, 1995). African-Americans reported discrimination 34% greater than whites with 70% of African-Americans discriminated against at least once in their lifetime (Forman, Williams, & Jackson, 1997). Discrimination may be the most conductive of strains eliciting negative emotions and crime-provoking behavior (Agnew, 2001). Homicide rates, at the micro level, were related to discrimination (Messner, 1989) with high rates of crime amongst African-Americans in racially segregated locales (Messner & South, 1986; Shihadeh & Flynn, 1996). At the micro level, positive associations existed between discrimination and juvenile delinquency (Simons et al., 2003). Negative experiences with law enforcement officers include discrimination (Miller, 1996), with frequent contact in high crime locals with unfavorable experiences (Parker, Onyekwuluje, and Murty, 1995). African-Americans were shot and killed more often by police officers compared to whites (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2000). While this fact showed negatively upon police officers, it also showed the high frequency in which African-Americans have extreme negative contacts with police officers.
General Strain Theory and the Mentally Ill
The Encyclopedia Britannica (2010) defines a mental disorder as, ‘ any’illness’with significant psychological or behavioral manifestations that is associated with either a painful or distressing symptom or an impairment in one or more important areas of functioning.’ Disregarding recognizable mental illnesses such as schizophrenia; cannot a majority of the African-Americans incarcerated be classified as having a mental illness? African-Americans, over years of mental strain, may suffer from and require support rebuilding and coping skills with coping resources and social support (Agnew, 1992). Problem solving competences with self-esteem and self-efficacy guidance may help to reduce and recover from the effects of strain (Agnew, 1992).
Utilization of tests such as the Psychological Inventory of Criminal Thinking Styles (Walters, 2005) or the Theory of Planned Behavior (Doll & Ajzen, 1992) may help in determining emotional distress, worldview, and criminal thinking methods of African-Americans. The state of New York utilized the Wilcoxon test to assess psychological changes (Ward, Bradigan, & Holanchock, 1997) finding intermediate care programs containing professionals such as clinical psychologists, social workers, and occupational/recreational therapists served to avoid hospitalizing inmates via therapy (e.g. group & recreational therapy, skill training, educational/vocational instruction, and crisis intervention). Religious recovery described by Fallot (2001) utilized spirituality as a potentially positive role in psychiatric rehabilitation.
Scobbie, Wyke, and Dixon (2009) reviewed goal-setting theories to identify those that offer the best potential results in clinical practice. Scobbie, Wyke, and Dixon (2009) concluded five main theories of social cognitive theory, goal setting theory, health action process approach, proactive coping theory, and self-regulatory model of illness behavior showed results in patient outcomes. These theories can overlap and intertwine to help identify issues and aid in rehabilitation.
The common theme pertaining to rehabilitation of inmates, mentally ill or not, starts with recognizing a mental illness. While prisons are for punishment, the treatment of psychological illnesses starts with recognition by the correctional facility or guards. Birgden (2004) stated the use of correctional staff is instrumental as ‘potential therapeutic agents’ (p. 283) with rehabilitation programs depending upon correctional officers’ support. The chance to deter future criminal activity depends upon the criminal’s will to succeed with the guidance of councilors and therapy.
Seriously mental ill inmates account for 8% to 20% of state prison inmates costing approximately $245 million with county estimates placed at approximately 7.2% to 15% with a cost of $58.4 million. Conservative overall estimate of approximately $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion went towards the care of inmates in the state of California in 1993-1994 (Izumi, Schiller, & Hayward, 1996). The number and costs associated with the care of mentally ill inmates could be considerable lowered with the proper application of intermediate care programs to recognize and rehabilitate criminals.
Theorists typically suggest inadequate socialization as one of the overall causations of deviance behavior (Bandura, 1969). There are a number of theories psychologists consider when classifying and diagnosing mental illnesses e.g. psychodynamic theories, operant conditioning, moral development, and social learning theory. The rational choice theory states ‘criminals make a conscious, rational, and at least partially’ (Schmalleger, 2006, p.118) while the lifestyle theory states ‘criminal thinking is hierarchically organized and that certain features of an individual’s general world view should correspond with specific criminal thinking styles’ (Walters, 2007, p. 184). The general choice theory utilizes many factors aforementioned, evaluating strain specifically upon the African-American culture.
Care of African-American mental illness, while incarcerated, requires substantial emotional and possibly professional treatment and support. Correctional guards are the first step in recognizing and referring strained African-Americans requiring professional guidance, and to aid in the rehabilitation process with positive interactions and socializations. Realistically, lesser needs may go untreated due to priority inmates with severe psychiatric needs. Cases with lesser, treatable, mental conditions can go untreated (Olley, Nicholls, Brink, 2009). While severe patients take priority, the needs of lesser cases should be the primary focus of correctional facilities. The breaking of the criminal behavioral cycle is the focus of such rehabilitation programs.
Currently there is no catchall racial explanation for the causation of crime or mental conditioning amongst African-American; Kaufman, Rebellon, Thaxton, and Agnew (2008) suggested the GST offered ‘an additional and complementary explanation that highlights the importance of emotional and motivational social psychological processes’ (p. 432).
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