Responsibility and Rehabilitation: Inmate Reactions to Increased Autonomy in a Prison Setting

Nicholas Mitchell, University at Albany
Shadd Maruna, University at Albany

This paper presents the results of an ethnographic study of a prison-based, modified therapeutic community (TC) that is operated with a minimal professional staff, and instead relies heavily on an inmate "cadre." Based on 12-Step and TC concepts such as the "wounded healer" and "each one, teach one," inmates selected to be part of the cadre are largely responsible for peer-group counseling, role modeling, and maintaining discipline and order inside the community. This study traces the changing perceptions and self-concepts of a cohort of inmates as they move from the general prison population ("gen pop") into the higher echelons of this inmate cadre. Particular attention will be paid to the possibly rehabilitative effects of this increasing autonomy and responsibility inside the prison setting; how cadre selections are made; and how the concept of "progress toward rehabilitation" is constructed among staff and cadre members. Additional issues to be addressed include how the "snitching" role of cadre members interacts with the traditional "Prison code;" the potential for inmate exploitation; custodial staff interactions with the inmate cadre; and inmate constructions and understandings of a peer-guided "treatment" experience.

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Updated 05/20/2006