An example of how coping behaviours would represent an interaction between the inmate and the penitentiary environment could be the comparison of two individuals, both of whom are facing a long sentence in the same institution. Both would experience the same environment characterized by restrictions and deprivations and both would likely be confronted with events during incarceration which are beyond their control. However, as a result of individual history, attributes, beliefs and coping capabilities, one person could interpret the lack of control as the result of personal inadequacy, while the other could interpret it as continuing abuse by others. While the first may sink into depression, apathy and withdrawal, the second might become resentful, angry and rebellious in an attempt to counter the control. The way the two individuals deal with their long sentences could also determine how they are each affected by the environment. While one might cope with the stress of long confinement by avoiding all thoughts of the future, the other may cope by finding a safe and comfortable behavioural niche within the institution. The first could take on the behaviour and values of the other inmates and be seen by outsiders as acting impulsively and carelessly; the second might have much weaker ties to the inmate subculture. The behaviour each exhibits would in turn affect the way each is seen by staff and other inmates, and their subsequent treatment would differ. This would further affect the emotional responses and the ways the two individuals appraise their environments, with subsequent behaviour then being affected by each factor continuously (Zamble & Porporino, 1988).
A Canadian study was carried out to test the coping hypothesis by observing, over a period of 16 months, the coping and adapting behaviour of inmates serving sentences similar in length in the same penitentiary. Conditions for the incarcerated are very different from those on the outside. By its nature, imprisonment requires that inmates live apart from their families, live together in groups that would not otherwise exist and be seriously constrained in their choices. As a result the inmate's world is socially and psychologically artificial. A primary objective of this study was to further understand what being incarcerated does to the inmate and to be able to make some conclusions about the general effects of imprisonment.
Among the observations and conclusions resulting from this study were that:
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