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Psychosocial Effects of Prison on Juveniles

The number of incarcerated juveniles is on the rise. “Crime rates are on the increase and

juveniles are the main cause of this trend” (Greve, 2001, p.20). Lack of healthy socialization

within penitentiaries can also cause juveniles to depend on the structure of prison life. Research

shows that there are significant links between the psychosocial effects of juvenile incarceration

and the alarming increase in the rate of recidivism, especially if the juveniles are put into adult

facilities. The negative impact of the social structure within these institutions can further the

permanent damage they already have suffered to their mental, emotional, and physical growth. If

juvenile offenders are not being offered transitional services when reintegrating into society, this

will negatively impact society.

First, prison life effects juveniles’ personal identity development during a crucial stage of

their lives. Because of the lack of healthy socialization as they are transforming into adults, it’s

extremely difficult for them to face the many challenges of growing up, such as physical changes

and sexually maturing (Greeve, 2001, p.28). The pressures of prison life restrict them from

getting the proper socialization that is so vital for them to have at this stage in their lives. They

try to cope with the combination of their own changing processes, and the pressure to conform to

their surroundings through hyper masculinity,

prison violence, and

adhering to its rules

(Berswill. 2004, p.118). It twists their concepts of not only themselves, but their future behavior.

They become even more socially dysfunctional (Berswill, 2004, p.328-332, Greeve, 2001, p.29).

Reintegration into society doesn’t work for offenders when they keep trying to use the prison

mentality they acquired during incarceration.


In addition, the importance of peer socialization needs to be addressed. “Adolescents

need societal opportunities for integration plus available relationships which allow them to

experiment with their striving autonomy(Berswill, 2004 p. 331). Depression and even suicide

are a few of the negative effects of such a closed environment being that the only influence they

get is from being around law enforcement and other deviant juveniles”(Greeve, 2001, p.28).

How can we expect them to re- enter society successfully with no support?

Their coping skills

become aggression, violence, and manipulation. Haney explains that prisons can turn juveniles

into harder criminals: “The long term effects of exposure to powerful and destructive situations,













(Haney,2005.p. 78). Juveniles can learn to be unaffected by punishment and consequences. This

in turn makes their behavior even more aggressive and they are more likely to commit worse

crimes when they are released (Haney, 2005. p. 78, Greeve 2004, p.328).

The callous

environment of prison makes them develop less of a conscious about what is right and wrong.

They actually learn not to care about their actions. The lack of healthy socialization becomes

worsened when juveniles are forced to be housed with adult offenders. Almost all prisons house

youth offenders (Fritz, 2003. P.8) Society needs to realize that the punishment for children and

adults should be different because juveniles are more easily victimized than adults, and more

easily influenced to use violent behavior. “One immediate concern is the vulnerability to

violence: 47 percent suffer violent victimization. They are five times more likely to be sexually

assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff and 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a

weapon, and eight times more likely to commit suicide ”(Fritz, 2003, P. 8). These statistics show

the startling dangers these juveniles learn to live with.











approach to sexual intercourse. One study concludes that juveniles are pressured to adopt

homosexuality or equate manliness with violence. Irwin & Owen explain, The pressure toward

homosexual satisfaction of one’s sexual needs, which provokes anxiety in many prisoners. The

other tendency is for male personality traits such as toughness to become exaggerated in the

absence of the opposite sex, thus distorting in psychologically painful ways the image of

manliness” (Irwin, Owen, 2005. P.102). Imprisonment distorts their perceptions of sexual

relationships. This would cause unhealthy relationships when they return to society.

Also, juveniles can become dependent on the structure of prison life. Prison becomes

their way of saving them from themselves. Because of negative parenting practices, prison meets

the needs for structure, stability, security, and the need to be cared for. They become dependent

on this structure and they can’t survive without it. They tend to sabotage themselves to get back

in prison because they cannot cope with the outside world (Berswill, 2004, P.331). During

Berswill’s study he documented a comment from a juvenile who had been incarcerated, which

shows that the young man found the structure of prison life helpful and he also reported that he

got off drugs only because of the structure of incarceration:“I have learnt to get by without

drugs….I could not manage that before…this is why it is such a plus point that I went to

jail…outside, I would’ve taken drugs, I wouldn’t have got off it outside, that’s clear”(Berswill,

2004, p.321).

Recidivism can be a problem with juveniles. One study presented data about recidivism

over a 15 to 17 year period. Results indicated that 60 percent of ample subjects released from

prison were returned to prison, and most of those who failed did so within the first three years of

release (Heide, Spencer, Thompson, Solomon (2001. P.97). It was suggested that youths today


are more predatory than those of generations ago (Heide, Spencer, Thompson, Solomon. 2001,

p.98) Several juvenile homicide experts forecast that murders by juveniles were likely to reach

epidemic proportions in the 21 st century if this trend keeps going” (Heide, 1995, p. 98). These

disturbing facts are a reality that society needs to find proactive ways to start dealing with.

Many studies suggest that there needs to be a shift from incarceration to treatment and






















criminogenic situational and contextual factors. This fact argues in favor of redirecting crime-

fighting resources and strategies away from nearly exclusive reliance on prisons and into ones

that emphasize preventative programs and interventions that are designed to reduce the structural

causes of crime(Haney, 2005, p.78). This shows that if offenders are not shown how to prevent

being incarcerated again,they will be more likely to keep up their old ways. While incarcerated,

they need to be taught other life choices and how to better control themselves so they don’t end

up back in the system. “Society should respond to the growing view that tough reactions are

appropriate, that punishment, including incarceration shouldn’t take precedence over treatment

and education”(Greeve, 2001.p21). Another study actually asked the offenders about their own

experiences in these re-entry programs and how it made a difference for them (Lane, Lanza-

Kaduce, Frazier, Bishop, 2002, p. 440-441). One offender learned to have hope for a better life

through being educated in a transitional program:

This program is alright because you can get

your education…and they have community college people come to teach here. They will help

you get into college. That’s what I’m planning on doin’…I got to the 9 th grade on the outside.

Then I dropped out, made real progress since I’ve been here. I’m up to the 11 th ” (Lane, Lanza-

Kaduce, Frazier, Bishop. 2000 p. 440).Education is vital to understanding how to make changes


within yourself. Education will improve anyone’s life, especially someone who has never really

had hope for a better future, and who has accepted that they are always going to be stereotyped

because of their mistakes, and then maybe lose the will to try to improve their lives.

There is such a need for intensive aftercare services for juvenile offenders to have

support for a successful transition into society. Studies show this is actually the hardest time for

them. This transition is a long process that takes a few years. Most of these programs start during

the incarceration period. If left to do this on their own, many don’t follow up on this care. “It is

so easy for them to lose control in the absence of prison. Integration into society winds up being

an obstacle course of social discrimination and marginalization (Berswill, 2004, p.318). As a

society, we need to put more efforts into the prevention system rather than the prison system.

Incarcerating adolescents without treatment only increases the likelihood they will continue bad

behavior, addiction, and be hardened into career criminals (Haney, 2005. Pgs. 66-86). Studies are

proving that these re-entry programs are working for many of these young people.

In conclusion, improper socialization can cause juvenile offenders to acquire dependency

on the structures of the prison system.

The increasing rates of recidivism prove this. Many

studies show that transitional services are proving to be much more effective than just

imprisonment to keep these juveniles from returning to the prison system. Without these services

most of these juveniles will not make any positive changes for themselves and there will be no

improvements within the society they live in.


Works Cited

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Working Alliance in the Treatment of Delinquent Boys in Community-Based Programs.

Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 29(1), 94.

Fritz, G. K. (2002). Adolescents Incarcerated With Adults: A Growing Problem. Brown


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