Institutional Aggression: Explanations and their Applications

Institutional aggression in The Psychologist

Students often miss opportunities to take their analysis further at A2 when they do not support their arguments with either evidence or examples. David J. Cooke and Lorraine Johnstone’s article, featured in August’s BPS members publication, The Psychologist, (“A look through the PRISM”; August 2012, vol. 25, no 8, page 604 – 607) provides both an insight into research into violence prevention in prisons and an opportunity to climb the AO2 mark-scheme ladder.

The article, which discusses an intervention programme called PRISM (a risk management assessment for violence leading to recommendations of how to reduce this risk) provides the much needed evidence to back up arguments focussing on the possible applications of situational models of institutional aggression (AQA spec A; Unit 3, Aggression) and the implications of the success (or not) for the models as credible explanations of this behaviour.

Supporting situational models

The authors highlight the need to focus not on who prisoners are, but where they are when taking steps to reduce violence in prisons and indeed other institutions (the programme has also been used in hospitals). The situational model the intervention is based on (derived from empirical evidence using a range of qualitative research methods) focusses on the influence of factors including: the physical environment and security features, staff levels, the ethos of the organisation, management structure and style and patient/prisoner assessment and treatment. The reported* success of PRISM, in the Scottish prison service, goes some way to support the idea that institutional aggression has its roots in the social forces that are somewhat amplified in an institutional setting.

*Cooke, D.J., Wozniak, E., & Johnstone, L. (2008) Casting light on prison violence in Scotland: Evaluating the impact of situational factors. Criminal Justice and Behavior,  35, 8, 1065-1078.


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