Thursday, September 6, 2007

541 Prisons and Institutional Environments

Message no. 541[Branch from no. 527] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Sunday, March 4, 2007 9:52am Subject: Re: summary

Great summary. You might enjoy the audio reading I have posted in the Course content area.

Thanks for the link to the article How Are Memories Stored and Retrieved? by Greg Miller ( I found it absolutely fascinating to learn how medical imaging and other research is revealing how we store memories over time.

I also liked your link to the different types of institutional environments and was glad we have AngloSaxon style rather than Latin type and Traditional type environments in our institutions. Even when it comes to prisons, and the horrible environment you describe visiting as a criminal justice intern, I would rather be in an Anglo Saxon style prison than a latin or traditional style. Every day I pass by a Cairo jail. The women line up on the street below the guard turrets and scream up to their husbands whom they cannot see behind the opaque dense bars of the few windows. Apparently the men are inside standing on top of one another trying to catch a glimpse of their loved ones through a crack and the noise of people screaming to one another and crying is defening. It moved me to tears the first time I saw this spectacle because the jail is filthy on the outside and must be even worse inside. I was told this is a facility for light crimes and political prisoners, not hard criminals. I can only imagine what those dungeons are like. My grandfather and my uncle where jailed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and they were so traumatized they would never talk about it. I did visit an American friend in two different jails in California and thought it was sad, but nothing like the Middle East. Of course the question is, how comfortable do we want to make a place whose function is to be a deterrent?

A Donald Duck comic I read here had a story where Donald becomes Mayor of Duckville and decides to renovate the jails and make them more humane. He makes them so comfortable that the Beagle Boys spread the word that you get a free room and meals and television if you commit a crime and all of a sudden everybody starts commiting crimes.

It is a vexing problem. How much of the jail environment itself should serve as a deterrent to outside crime, and how much should it serve as a place where environmental conditions can help reform people?

My experience working with gang kids in inner city Los Angeles, (and one of my beloved students who murdered somebody) was that the jails actually turn petty criminals into hardened criminals. I have written a bit more on this in the discussion section on "moral environments" where I quoted a discussion occurring in my wife's sports psychology class.

I would love to hear more about this topic from you and anyone else who has direct experience with jails.


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