The psychology of a failing jail: Jail as an abusive and sexually abusive foster 'family' for 'children' with multiple trauma - Implications for rehabilitation
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis considers the failure of the Washington, DC jail to rehabilitate its criminals. The data come from a diary kept during 25-months of participant jail observation. The theory is based on a synthesis of the following concepts: 1. the power differential between different social groups; 2. order, energy/mass, time and space, which are the basic concepts of physics; 3. the similarities between physical and psychological trauma; 4. the principles common to the care of all trauma and 5. the Death Spiral, a process in which severely injured people cannot behave safely and must, over time, either injure themselves and/or other people. The theory proposes that adult criminal behaviour is to a very great extent the expression of severe, neglected childhood psychological traumas, most of them arising from severe abuse. The theory further proposes that the DC jail's failure to rehabilitate criminals arises from its failure to provide a safe environment. This violates the first principle of trauma care. The theory is tested by comparing it to the data about the legal system, the jail administration, the employees and the inmates. The data show that the administration of the jail behaves like a well-intentioned but neglectful, abusive and sexually abusive head of an abusive foster family. The inmates are the jail family's foster 'children'. The jail fails to rehabilitate them because it recreates the very conditions that originally caused their unsafe behaviour. The data also show that many inmates are massively injured and thereby trapped in a Death Spiral. But hurting others, or oneself, remains a matter of personal choice and social permission. Inmates who survive by endangering and exploiting others had no motivation to change because the criminal system rewards them in many different ways. The thesis suggests that a safe environment and fairness are fundamental to all criminal rehabilitation and could be offered to every inmate as follows: 1) by outside supervision of the jail to ensure non-abusive jail 'family' function; 2) by providing special units for severely injured self-destructive criminals who have a strong motivation to change; 3) by providing criminals who endanger, harm and exploit others only with a safe environment, good modelling by jail employees and self-help opportunities; 4) by offering substantial support to employees who face many of the same problems that criminals face.