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Bigger Prisons, Bigger Problems?

May 19, 2009

Britain is going through a prison crisis—they have more criminals to put in jail than jails! Until recently, the British government was planning to build large prisons to hold these criminals. The prisons, dubbed “Titan Prisons” by the British press, were to be designed similarly to American prisons, each holding close to 3,000 prisoners. But now it appears the British government is not going to build these huge prisons. Instead, they are going to a build a larger number of smaller scale prisons.

Pilikan Bay Prison in California, a "super max" mega prison.

Pilikan Bay Prison in California, a "super max" mega prison.

Sociologists worry about the idea of prison altogether, since it can be a form of secondary socialization. Socialization is the social process a person goes through to learn the rules of society. Some sociologists hold that prisoners are re-socialized in prison—they are taught how to be more violent, have less respect for authority, and become more criminally active by other inmates. This negative socialization process is called “prisonization.” Some of these sociologists hold that the bigger the prison, the less control authorities have over the prison population and the more likely it is that this negative re-socialization process will occur.

What do you think? If you would like to voice your own sociological insights, please respond to one of the topics below:

1. How can putting people in prison protect society? What other remedies do you think society has? What are some advantages and disadvantages of these alternatives?

2. How can putting people in prison ultimately hurt society? Would the size of prisons increase the negative social processes you’ve listed? How?

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