A General Strain Theory of Prison Violence and Misconduct: An Integrated Model of Inmate Behavior

Kristie R. Blevins, University of Cincinnati
Francis T. Cullen, University of Cincinnati
Robert Agnew, Emory University

Explanations of prison violence and other forms of misconduct have been dominated by three competing models: 1) the "deprivation model," first popularized by Gresham Sykes, 2) the "importation model," first popularized by John Irwin and Donald Cressey, and 3) the "coping model," first popularized by Hans Toch. We propose that these three seemingly competing models can be integrated under the conceptual umbrella of Agnew's "general strain theory" (hereinafter GST)> GST enriches the deprivation model by revealing three distinctive categories of strain. GST also encompasses the importation model in hypothesizing that criminal cultural values and affiliations will structure the response to the strains of imprisonment. And GST incorporates the coping model in its emphasis on how social support, social capital, and human capital can blunt the effets of potentially criminogenic strains. Finally, GST is sufficiently btroad to include factors (e.g., emotions, self-control) in the explanation of prison maladjustment not covered by the three main models of prison inmate behavior. In short, GST offers a broad, integrated framework for reconceptualizing our understanding prison violence and misconduct.

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Updated 05/20/2006