How does the prison change people and can you find something good in this?
Prison is a place where people do not just fall for it. At least for the most part, people who are behind bars, first commit a crime of varying degrees of severity, and then bear a fair (even if they do not think so) punishment for this. But the moral side of the issue is a much more complicated and far less studied history. Unlike, say, attempts to explain how and why a prison changes people.
Prison changes people – it’s a fact
Limited space, limited social contacts, strict order and the desire to attract as little attention as possible – that’s what an average prisoner is facing. Ultimately, a person who got into jail has no choice but to try to adapt to the proposed conditions.
In a report on the psychological impact of imprisonment, social psychologist Craig Haney, who collaborated with Philip Zimbardo in the infamous Stanford experiment , notes: “Few have changed and not suffered from prison experience.”
Based on interviews with hundreds of prisoners, researchers from the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge went further, stating that a lengthy imprisonment “changes people to the bone.” This is written by BBC Future, referring to the publication of scientists on this topic.
Personality psychology always believed that the person of a person – regardless of the circumstances he faced – remains to some extent fixed if we are talking about an adult and a person who has already formed. However, recent studies have shown that, despite relative stability, our way of thinking, patterns of behavior and emotions can change. And especially – in response to the roles that we try on during life. Thus, a prison, if we are not talking about 30 days, but about a more serious time, will inevitably lead to personal change as a threatening and inevitable environment.
What happens to the prisoners after the prison
Among psychologists and criminalists, it is widely believed that prisoners are adapting to their environment with time. This, according to experts, is the reason for “adaptation” – a sort of withdrawal syndrome faced by an ex-prisoner when he returns home and does not seem to understand how to live in complete freedom now.
Psychologist Marieke Liema and forensic scientist Maarten Kunst, talking to former prisoners who spent at least 19 years in jail, found that each of them formed “institutionalized personality traits,” including at least “distrust of attitude to people, hampering any interaction “and” difficulty in making decisions “.
One 42-year-old man in these interviews admitted that he continues to live according to prison laws even at large. “I still act as if I am in prison. I think this is because a person does not look like a switch or a water tap – and you can not disconnect something at a click. So, when you do something for a long period, it gradually becomes a part of you, “he says.
An interview with hundreds of prisoners from the UK, conducted by Susie Hulley and her colleagues from the Institute of Criminology, drew a similar picture. Speaking about personal changes, that they are no longer the same as they were before, prisoners often described the process of “emotional numbness” when you stop trusting even your own feelings, not to mention empathy .
This, of course, is of concern to Halley and her colleagues. “As a long-term prisoner adapts to the imperatives of imprisonment, he or she becomes more emotionally closed, more self-isolated, more socially excluded and perhaps less well suited to life after release,” the expert says. Adding that for this very reason many people who have at least once been to prison are returning there again.
Self-discipline and order as positive factors
But if you have time to think that only 5 or 10 years in prison affect the personality, then this is not entirely true. A study in 2018 using neuropsychological tests showed that even a short stay in prison affects the personality. Lead author of the study Jesse Meijers and his colleagues from the Amsterdam Free University (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) proved that in three months the prisoners demonstrate increased impulsiveness and weakened control over their own lives.
However, other results give some glimpses of hope. A recent experiment of Swedish scientists, conducted with the participation of control groups, including college and security students, found that although prisoners have a low degree of extraversion , openness and agreement with social norms, as expected, they have a higher level of self-discipline and more a strong desire for order in life.
“The environment in prison is very strict with respect to both rules and norms, and personal space here is extremely limited. Such an environment requires prisoners to observe order in order to avoid both formal punishment and negative actions on the part of other prisoners, which can positively affect the life after the prison, “conclude researchers at Kristianstad University.
Despite the fact that the conclusions drawn in Sweden seem to contradict the conclusions of Dutch scientists, it is important to note that, in the experiment of the Amsterdam Free University, along with more impulsiveness and less attention, the prisoners demonstrated a marked improvement in their spatial planning capabilities. However, the high conscientiousness encountered by Swedish prisoners may be specific to the prison system of their country, where a much greater emphasis is placed on socialization and rehabilitation than in many other countries.
As awareness grows that the personality is a pliable and changeable category, an increasing number of experts deny the fact that the prison environment changes the character of the prisoners. But this, they say, can help their better adaptation back into society. It remains only to understand what methods will be most effective here.