A general model of harm in correctional settings

N Wolff – The oxford handbook of prisons and imprisonment, 2018

That prisons, as social institutions, are harmful is an accepted fact by corrections experts, although the fact is rarely found acceptable. Factually, we know harm inside prison ranges from bullying (Ireland 2005) to homicide and suicide (Noonan 2012), and such manifestations of harm are often persistent, repetitive, and range in severity (Irwin 1980; Bottoms 1999; Human Rights Watch 2001). Epidemiologic evidence suggests that harm inside prison is common when displayed physically (ie, an incarcerated person is hit, kicked, stabbed, shot, or choked). Over a six-month period, Wolff, Shi, and Siegel (2009b) found that one in five inmates (male or female) experienced some form of physical victimization by another inmate, increasing to one in three if the offender is defined to include staff. Sexual victimization is less common. Two recent studies conducted by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate the prevalence of sexual victimization at 4.4 percent (based on reports from current prison inmates; Beck et al. 2010) and 9.6 percent (based on reports of former state inmates; Beck and Johnson 2012). Another way of looking at harm focuses on bullying, defined as direct or indirect aggression that creates fear of future harm. Ireland (2005) estimates that slightly more than half of incarcerated persons are bullied by others. These prevalence estimates frame the qualitative accounts of prison life documented by researchers in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s (Sykes 1958; Carroll 1974; Toch 1977; Irwin 1980).

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Book | prison | violence