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Discuss Psychological Explanations of Two or More Forms of Institutional Aggression

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Discuss psychological explanations of two or more forms of institutional aggression (8+16m)

Institutional aggression involves the behaviour of those people serving in institutions (e.g. police, security services, military) as well as criminal and terrorist groups. It can be defined as any aggression that is influenced by the institution in which takes place. It may occur within groups or institution such as armed forces, prisons or mental institution or in between different groups.

 Irwin and Cressy (1962) claim the importation model suggest inmates in prison bring their social histories and traits into prison with them; this then influences adaptation to the prison environment. Irwin and Cressy argue that prisoners are not ‘blank slates’ upon entry to prison, and that many of the normative systems developed on the outside would be ‘imported’ into the prison.

 Furthermore, Allender and Marcel (2003) have found that gang members disproportionately engage in acts of prison violence and concluded that pre-prison gang membership appears to be an important determinant of prison misconduct. Additionally, Huff (1998) found that gang members in the USA were 10 times more likely to commit a murder and three times more likely to assault someone in public than when non-gang members of a similar age and background. This is a dispositional factor because previous background/ expectations/ creepers and gang culture has influenced the crime committed.

 There is empirical support for the notion that the importation model (dispositional factors) can influence institutional aggression. For example, Harer and Steffenmeier (2006) collected data from 58 US prisons and found that black inmates had significantly higher levels of violence but lower rates of drug and alcohol abuse than white inmates, whilst in the prison. This supports the idea that individual factors such as race, upbringing and culture can impact on institutional aggression. This is because, if the findings were due to situational factors, then you would expect black and white prisoners to have the same levels of aggressive behaviour in prison as they would be influenced by the institution itself, whereas they were not. Furthermore, these patterns parallel radical differences in these behaviours in US society. Consequently, this supports the notion of the importation model and therefore the credibility of the idea that dispositional forces can influence the levels of aggression in institutions is increased.

 However, there is contradictory evidence that refutes the notion that the importation model can influence institutional aggression. For example, DeLisi et al (2004) challenges the claim that pre-prison gang membership predicts violence whilst in prison. They found that in inmates with prior street gang involvement were no more likely than other inmates to engage in prison violence. This suggests that prior behaviour and characteristics that what ‘imported’ into the present having no effect on that aggression shown in the institution (prison). Therefore, the credibility of the importation model as an explanation for institutional aggression is reduced.

 A further criticism with the research into institutional aggression between groups such as in prison is that it is considered reductionist. This is because it reduces the complex nature of aggression institutions and reduces its causes down to factors that prisoners have brought with them outside of prison. Although this has face validity and that is logical to understand, it ignores many other factors that could cause institutional aggression. This includes fear and anxiety which one caused by the prison and environment and how they are treated by guards, for example, which could also cause an aggressive reaction. This suggests that the research into the importation model is too simplistic and a more holistic approach is needed to fully understand why aggression occurs in institutions.

 Another model used as an explanation of aggression is the deprivation model and the association of situation of factors. This model argues that prisoner or patient aggression is the product of the stressful and oppressive conditions of the institution itself (Paterline & Peterson, 1999). Factors can include: crowding which is assumed to increase fear and frustration; staff experience whereby Hodgkinson (1985) found trainee nurses were more likely to suffer violent assaults than experienced nurses; status/power (e.g. in Abu Ghraib they were low ranking reservists) and were unchecked by the institution which created a situation where they could abuse their power; deinviduation and helplessness is another factor in which guards felt their anomaly was secure and they acted without planning  as they were ‘caught up in it’ and the final factor of dehumanisation whereby victims are seen as worthless and violence is normalised (e.g. this is often seen in genocide).



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