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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Youths’ Experience 'Inside' A.Smith



With a link between early childhood victimization and later youth incarceration, it is important to understand the experiences of youth while incarcerated. One problem youth could have from the beginning of their prison term is with adjusting to the new schedule, the new people, and the loss of freedom. Not only is it typical that most young offenders experience adjustment problems to this new environment, it is suggested that youth who have experienced early childhood victimization have an increased difficulty with adjustment in general. For example, as previously mentioned, Straus (1988) cited the study by Galambos and Dixon (1984) who supported the notion that adolescents who experienced childhood abuse also demonstrated several adjustment problems. However, Kashani and Allan (1998) found in that a child’s adjustment problems could be moderated by certain factors like perceived social support while incarcerated; support either from outside family members or correctional staff. This is important to note because if increased familial support or perceived support from correctional workers can improve an abused adolescent’s adjustment to custody and thus decrease their violent behaviours or levels of vulnerability, the cycle of violence and the adolescent’s life-course trajectory may be adjusted.

Another elaborate discussion about adolescent adjustments to incarceration comes from Toch and Adams (2002). Toch and Adams (2002) proposed five group “types” of adjustment and suggested that the type of adjustment the youth manifests will affect their experiences while incarcerated. One group or type of custody adjustment, as identified by Toch and Adams (2002) were those labelled as individuals who functioned based on “gratifying impulses”. Those who are concerned with gratifying impulses are known to be the aggressors because they are more concerned with the short-term objectives, rather than what will happen in the long term (Toch and Adams, 2002). Some of the main reasons these individuals are classified as the aggressors is because they resort to violent behaviour in order to achieve their objects of satisfaction and, if their plans are obstructed, they have violent outbursts. This can be related back to our discussion about the impact of childhood maltreatment on adolescents because one of the effects of maltreatment is modeling. If, while growing up, all a child sees is violence in his family and he gets abused when he gets in the way, then perhaps this will become his immediate reaction when someone gets in his way in custody.

The second type of adjustment groups are those interested with “enhancing esteem” (Toch and Adams, 2002). The authors suggested that these individuals are primarily concerned with the reputation they create for themselves and strive to be seen as the “tough guy”. These individuals are more likely to be the aggressors in prison as they will victimize other peers who either get in their way when they are developing this tough image, or they will victimize others to prove how tough they are. In addition, Toch and Adam (2002) found that individuals in this category “feel easily disparaged and affronted, and [react] violently when [feeling] offended or slighted” (p.130). In addition, Toch and Adams (2002) argued “this person expects to be rejected and reacts with provocation and hostility in anticipation of rejection, thus documenting his assumptions” (p.130). This can be related back to our previous discussion about the many consequences of experiencing childhood victimization. It was mentioned that individuals who experienced victimization as a child become more aggressive and violent and, as a consequence to this aggression, they are continuously rejected by their peers from early childhood throughout adolescence. If they have been dealing with rejection from their peers for multiple years, it is likely this fear of rejection will carry over into prison when they are faced with new individuals and a new environment, thus it may foster even more aggression and violent outbursts.

In addition to these two adjustment groups, Toch and Adams (2002) proposes that there were groups of individuals who adjusted in a way that could increase their vulnerability to victimization in custody. These groups are those who seek autonomy and refuge. Individuals considered to be seeking autonomy alternate between being dependent on others and rebellious against the system. In addition, they often challenge authority and are defiant as they refuse to have others tell them what to do. This could potentially increase their vulnerability to victimization because they may become an outcast and be disliked by staff and others at the institution, thus alienating and further rejecting them. Since we know those who were abused as children are sometimes considered weak and loners, and those who are perceived weak and lonely are at an increased risk of being victimized, this alienation could increased their vulnerability to revictimization.

 In addition to individuals who seek autonomy, those who seek refuge are at an increased risk of being victimized. According to Toch and Adams (2002), individuals who seek refuge are those who have “victim attributes or self-assign victim attributes that place him in situations which inspire retreat into protective settings or the need to be placed into such settings” (p. 132). In addition, Toch and Adams (2002) suggested that a person who seeks refuge experiences a certain degree of anxiety that he cannot cope with, leading him to request protective custody. Since we know that one of the many consequences of childhood maltreatment is an increased level of anxiety, it could be that this anxiety is too much for the individual to handle, so they request protective custody. In addition, because of the nature of a youth detention facility, word travels very quickly amongst the residents and as soon as an individual requests protective custody they are perceived as weak and a coward which could increase the likelihood that they will become a target of victimization.

The fifth group Toch and Adams (2002) identified were those who were “maintaining sanity” (p.133). Toch and Adams (2002) suggested that individuals who were trying to keep it together while incarcerated often withdraw from their surroundings and try to live by themselves in their own world. This type of person can be both an aggressor and a victim because, as Toch and Adam (2002) discussed, “this person for the most part withdraws but on occasion explodes and attacks other people in his environment or attempts self-destructive acts” (p.133). This person can be considered a violent aggressor because their outbursts happen at random and are often unpredicted; however, they are also at an increased risk for victimization because they withdraw themselves from others and at times appear delusional and scared which suggests to other inmates that they are weak and easy to take advantage of.

In accordance with the life-course theory and the cycle of violence hypothesis, early childhood victimization has impacts and consequences that can follow an individual throughout their life and continue to affect them many years later. Their trajectory begins with a victimization that fosters aggression and anxiety during their development into adolescence, which increases rejection from their peers and further perpetuates feelings of self-hate, violent and aggressive behaviour, and loneness. As these behaviours manifest within the individual, they react to their environment in ways that either increase their future vulnerability to later (re)victimization, or at times it will increase the likelihood that this individual will become violent towards others and victimize other individuals. Their behaviour of aggression and anger towards others increases their chances of committing a violent offense or other delinquent behaviours and leads them to incarceration during adolescence. In addition, feelings of self-hate, anxiety, aggression, and loneliness impact their experiences while they are incarcerated; affecting adjustment, seeking refuge, needing to express a “tough guy” image, or displaying vulnerabilities, such as withdrawal, sadness, and weakness. The way they adjust to their new environment can impact whether or not they become the violent aggressors amongst their peers, or they experience (re)victimization while they are incarcerated. If they are left to fend for themselves and adjust to their best ability, the outcomes of incarceration can further the cycle of violence and perpetuate this antisocial life-course trajectory. 

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