Prisonization Effects on Inmates

In the field of criminology, one area of interest that has attracted a sizable number of studies is imprisonment. There is a huge need of knowing the impact of imprisonment on the convicted individuals. Researchers also intend to know if prisons serve their role of correcting the bad behaviors of convicted individuals before they are integrated into society. Donald Clemmer is one of these scholars, who developed a unique understanding of imprisonment. He was a sociologist and a penitentiary administration officer (Sobecki, 2020). Through active observation for many years, Clemmer developed a popular term known as “prisonization.” Analysis into his work shows that prisonization occurs when new inmates are adopted into prison culture and adoption affects prisoners on different levels based on various factors, such as period of imprisonment.

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Clemmer invented the word “prisonization” to illustrate the process that prisoners endure while incarcerated. In a 1940 book, The Prison Community, this scholar explained that there is a unique prison culture that is separate from the normal human culture. He went ahead to explain that prisonization occurs when new inmates are introduced into new prison culture and they gradually adapt to that culture as their new norms (Sobecki, 2020). In other words, prisonization is a form of assimilation in which, those who are new into prison are slowly, gradually, and more or less sub-consciously ushered into the prison way of life. These inmates go ahead to accept such ways of life as their new normal life.

The prison culture is a unique climate that occurs in the general penitentiary as a result of formal and informal rules. Official norms include having a prison language, such as a person being referred with a number and not their official names (Martin, 2018). Others include official uniforms that prisoners are supposed to wear, sleeping and eating time, and other duties, among other normal legal prison requirements. There are also informal cultural values, such as rules created by other prisoners, the attitude toward prison guards, the perception of prison, and many other informal aspects of prisons. Reduced human freedom and autonomy also are prison aspect that helps create a unique prison culture.

Clemmer found that because all these formal and informal norms, ways of life, and principles are found in all areas of prisons, they tend to influence all prisoners. The most surprising aspect of prisonization is that it develops a negative outcome as opposed to the desires of the criminal justice system (Martin, 2018). When people are incarcerated, the criminal justice wants them to learn their mistakes, learner from them, and change to be good and law-abiding citizens. However, prisonization forces those who have been incarcerated to develop internalization of criminal perspectives (Martin, 2018). In other words, prisonization forces those incarcerated to accept their criminal ways. The process is also harmful because it compels even prisoners to become immune to the influence of the conventional ways of life.

The outcome of prisonization is that it compels those individuals who have been in prison to become less law-abiding. Due to the culture of prison that is based on criminal ways of life, convicts who have been released from prison find a hard time reintegrating with the conventional ways of life. Such aspect has been witnessed worldwide with recidivism raising instead of reducing, despite the massive campaigns and efforts to reintegrate prisoners into society (Martin, 2018). One thing about prisonization is that it impacts convicts who come to the prison because it is a must for them to interact with the prison’s way of life. However, Clemmer explained that all prisoners are not affected in the same way as illustrated below.

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Factors that Increase the Prisonization Effect

Clemmer found that seven factors increase the risk of a high level of prisonization. First, there is the time span spent at the prison, with longer sentences have more effect on prisonization. This is because those who are incarcerated for a longer duration are exposed to prison culture for an extended period; hence, have greater prisonization. Second, there is the level of personality instability per individual prisoner (Sobecki, 2020). Those with low personality stability have a greater degree of higher prisonization. Third, a prisoner’s connection with the external world may circumscribe the degree of prisonization. Those convicts who are not visited or contacted by their loved ones tend to develop a higher degree of personalization. This might occur because their behaviors are not modified by the outside world norms.

Fourth, the integration within the prison with other primary prisoners’ groups is another critical factor. Those convicts who end up with a high level of integration with primary groups in the prison end up with a higher level of personalization. Fifth, blind acceptance of dogmas and customs in the prison matters a lot. Those prisoners that accept these views and prison rules of primary groups end up with a higher degree of prisonization (Sobecki, 2020). Sixth, a higher degree of prisonization can occur as a result of chance or coincidence. This transpires if a prisoner is placed in the same prison cell with individuals that share the same orientation and views. Lastly, Clemmer observed that a higher degree of prisonization was achieved due to engaging in gambling behaviors within the prison and also having atypical sexual behavior.

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Factors that Lower Degree of Prisonization

Clemmer also outlines seven factors that reduce the effect of prisonization on incarcerated convicts. First, a shorter sentence was associated with a low degree of prisonization because of the short period of exposure to prison culture. Hence, less time of exposure to universal factors of prisonization. Second, it was observed that when an inmate had positive relationships in the outside world, in the run-up to incarceration, they tend to be less influenced by prisonization (Sobecki, 2020). Such relationships give them hope for a bright future after prison life, and thus, they do not work toward fitting into the prison culture. Third, if there is a continuity of positive connection with the people in the external world, less prisonization transpires. Those people help such inmates to maintain the conventional norms and values from the outside world.

Fourth, those individuals that refuse or lack social skills for integration get less degree of prisonization. These are people who have insignificant or no communication with basic and semi-primary prison organizations. Fifth, some refuse to blindly accept dogmas and the informal norms observed in prisons (Sobecki, 2020). They are inmate who tends to cooperate with the prison administration, and thus, has less degree of prisonization. Sixth, those inmates that are placed in the same prison cells with individuals with less prison integration also tend to have less degree of prisonization. Lastly, not engaging in gambling and abnormal sexual acts result in less degree of prisonization.


The above analysis has reviewed the issue of prisonization and how it manifests among inmates. It has been revealed that prisonization occurs as a result of new inmates slowly and gradually adopting the culture and norms of prison. Such adoption results in enhance criminal behaviors as opposed to reforming toward being a good person. There are various factors associated with a less or higher degree of prisonization among incarcerated individuals. For example, those inmates with long sentences tend to have a higher degree of prisonization as opposed to those with short sentences.


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