Public humiliation, enforced respect and deference, the finality of authoritarian decisions, and the demands for certain conduct because it is in the individual's best interest are all features of childhood helplessness in the face of a superior adult world. This may be irksome and disturbing to a child, but for the adult who has escaped such helplessness with the passage of years, being thrust back into such helplessness could prove even more painful (Sykes, 1966). Treating inmates as if they were children is contrary to the best interest of society: when long term prisoners are released they may have lost the ability to make decisions for themselves and are less likely to be able to live productive lives in the community.

Deprivation of security.

When incarcerated, an offender is placed into prolonged proximity with other inmates who in many cases have a long history of violent, aggressive behaviour. It is a situation which has proven to be anxiety provoking for even the hardest of recidivists. Regardless of the mutual aid and support which may flourish in the inmate population, there are a sufficient number of offenders within this group of offenders to deprive the average inmate of the sense of security which comes from living among people who can be reasonably expected to abide by the rules of society (Sykes, 1966). This loss of security arouses acute anxiety, not just because violent acts of aggression and exploitation can take place, but also because such behaviour constantly calls into question the individual's ability to cope in prison and hinder their abilities to live normally in the outside world. The thoughts of a long term inmate beginning a 45 year sentence in an American prison illustrate these problems:

...[T]here will be violence. How can I escape it? I am young and I will be living in a maximum security prison. It will be inevitable that I be tried. And I will respond in a manner appropriate for prisons... The constant companionship of thieves, rapists, killers, aggressive homosexuals, and snitches who will say or do anything to save their own hide is far from relaxing. All of these factors exacerbate the tensions of beginning a long prison term. They will not prepare me for release (Santos, 1995, p. 38).

Another threat to the personal security of inmates is the possibility of contacting the HIV virus from another inmate through sexual activity, sharing syringes used to inject intravenous drugs and through unsanitary tattooing practices. Correctional Service Canada (CSC) statistics indicate that in 1997, the known cases of HIV in federal institutions totalled 158 and the number of unknown cases were thought to be much higher (CSC, 1998). Contact with HIV infected prisoners entails a risk when bodily fluids are shared, and because most inmates do not know the HIV status of fellow inmates, they may engage in high-risk activities with little fear of HIV infection. Others might become fearful of infection, particularly those who have been sexually assaulted.

line

Back Table of Contents Next