CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ross on Prisoner Resistance to Abuse

Ross jeffrey ian Jeffrey Ian Ross (School of Criminal Justice - University of Baltimore) has posted Resisting the Carceral State: Prisoner Resistance from the Bottom Up (Social Justice, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 28-45, 2010) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

When an individual is sentenced to jail or prison, or given some other correctional sanction, the state has numerous moral and legal obligations including providing a modicum of protection and safety to the persons who are incarcerated therein. When sentences, especially jail and prison conditions fall short of these guarantees by failing to meet these obligations and protections, as they frequently do, numerous constituencies may respond. With respect to inmates, their reactions can vary along a continuum, from adaptations, to low intensity and difficult to detect protest actions, to overt and wide scale institutional violence. These later reactions can be easily interpreted as resistance to the crimes of states. This paper briefly reviews the most dominant and deleterious prison conditions in American jails and prisons, and the dominant forms of inmate adaptations and resistance to these crimes of the state. Finally, the article analyzes state responses to prisoner resistance, thereby capturing the dialectal nature of this process.

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This paper seems to be biased toward criminal justice agencies. I note a particular contempt for Correctional Officers in the overall tone of the writing. It is unfortunate that such one-sidedness has found its way into academia. It seems to never have occurred to the author that criminals create most, if not all, of their own problems by way of being, well - criminals. Of course, I do not advocate cruel or unusual punishment of inmates nor do I wish for them to be deprived of any rights they have under the constitution. Equally, I do not want incarcerated individuals to keep harming society when they continually manipulating the system by filing erroneous lawsuits. Criminals are manipulative by nature. When they don't get what they want, they lie to authority figures, advocacy groups, and the news media in the hopes of having the rules bent in their favor, actual unconstitutional act notwithstanding.

When one speaks of correctional officials who abuse their powers, one should ask why. Why, would someone in a criminal justice agencies, which is suppose to uphold the laws of the land, break them? What rational did he or she use? How did this official arrive at the decision to knowingly or unknowingly violate the law? Was this person a law breaker before entering the criminal justice agency? The answer to the last question is more than likely, no. This is what separates the corrupt official from an incarcerated individual. One involuntarily entered the criminal justice system because he or she was a law breaker, the other voluntarily entered the criminal justice system because he or she wanted a career in enforcing laws.

When one seeks employment in a criminal justice agency, one usually undergoes a criminal background check. There is no uniform standard for every criminal justice agency, but it is safe to say that most do not hire individuals with a serious criminal history, and that includes correctional officers – the most numerous members of the criminal justice system in the United States. So why does an already law abiding individual turn to corrupt practices once hired into a criminal justice agency? Well, to start with, most do not. That is to say, that most correctional officers are and continue to be honest professionals who operate in some of the most dangerous working environments. The myth that all, or even most, or even a lot of the correctional officer workforce is corrupt is simply not true and there is no evidence to say otherwise. Do some correctional officers engage in corrupt practices? Yes. However, if one examines the number of incidents of corrupt correctional officers in comparison to the sheer number of correctional officers, one will find that they are not over represented when compared to other positions of power. In other words, there are so many correctional officers, over half-a-million according the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, that the raw number of corrupt incidents are bound to be higher than other positions of power. In addition, correctional officers are in constant contact with those they supervise, increasing the odds of conflict. Additionally, those supervised are being held against their will. Their resistance does not stem from corrupt practices, but from the fact that they do not want to be in prison in the first place. Corrupt practices simply provide criminals with an excuse to buck the system.

Giving criminals excuses for continually resisting authority is a lose – lose situation. The criminals loses because he or she feels justified in “fighting the good fight” and can lead to the failure to rehabilitate. “Why should I change, the state is the criminal, not me.” And society loses because an incarcerated criminal will eventually become an unincarcerated criminal.

Posted by: sayjack | Dec 17, 2010 10:13:27 AM

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