The women in here - all of us - need comfort and someone to hold. We need to feel close to someone. That's why some of them turn to lesbianism. They're not really that way inclined, they're just using each other to satisfy their immediate needs. Then they have real problems when they get out of prison. Can you imagine telling a man you love that you've slept with a woman? (Genders & Player, 1990, p. 124)

Deprivation of heterosexual relationships has a profound impact on both male and female inmates. Homosexual relations are the only means for participatory sex in prison, and many, female inmates in particular, undergo changes in identity and self perception. Some male prisoners are spared this change and are allowed to maintain their heterosexual "real man" status, but oftentimes this requires the victimization and abuse of other prisoners.


The deterioration model holds that long term incarceration causes the deterioration of an inmate's personality and mental, emotional and physical well-being. Clinical and psychiatric case studies have long suggested that imprisonment can be devastating, at least for some offenders. For example, some studies into functional "psycho-syndrome" have shown inmates with defects in cognitive functions, such as loss of memory and a general clouding of comprehension and ability to think; other defects included emotional problems (apathy and rigidity), problems in relating to others (infantile regression and increased introversion), and the appearance of psychotic characteristics (obsessions, loss of reality contact) (Zamble & Porporino, 1988).

However, other studies which applied even more stringent methodology provided no consistent findings of significantly quantifiable psychological deterioration. There have been numerous attempts to use traditional measures to assess the effects of imprisonment on personality, but no clear conclusions were reached from these studies. Studies using the self esteem dimension of personality as a measure resulted in contradictory findings; some studies showed self esteem increased after some period of incarceration, while other studies indicated no change in self esteem (Zamble & Porporino, 1988).

Several studies, such as those carried out by a team of psychologists at Durham University in England, attempted to assess the effects of imprisonment using comprehensive batteries of psychological measures with groups of inmates who varied in the amount of time they had served. It was concluded that there was no over-all deterioration in perceptual-motor or cognitive functioning in connection with duration of imprisonment. Furthermore, there were no consistent changes in attitudes or personality resulting from length of imprisonment. Other similar studies in Germany and Canada showed that while a large proportion of inmates showed signs of depression and emotional withdrawal, very few differences were found based on length of incarceration. Furthermore, bitterness and expressions of demoralization by the prison environment, such as sleep disturbance and loss of appetite, were most evident among inmates who had served the least time (Zamble & Porporino, 1988).


Back Table of Contents Next