Sociology Index


Prison subculture is the culture of prison society and arises from the pains of imprisonment. Prison subculture is also imported to the prison. The main idea of importation theory is that the subculture within prisons is brought in from outside the walls by offenders who have developed their beliefs and norms while on the streets. The prison subculture is reflective of the offender subculture on the streets. Prison Subculture is also known as the convict code. Thus, behaviors respected behind the walls of a prison are similar to behaviors respected among the criminal population outside of the prison. Prison subculture is largely the product of socialization that occurs inside prison. Subculture refers to group that shares common values, norms, beliefs and Prison subculture refers to inmate code. The process of taking on norms and customs of prisons is called prisonization.

While theoretical integration has its place in explaining the universe of inmate behavior and the prison subculture, wholesale integration may not be necessary when attempting to explain specific behaviors. The Prisonization Model postulates that inmates react or adapt to the deprivations of imprisonment by forming the inmate  prison subculture and behaving accordingly. The inmate prison subculture is a product of both importation and indigenous factors.

The work of Hochstellar and DeLisa (2005) represents an academic attempt to negotiate between these two arguments. These researchers used a sophisticated statistical technique known as structural equation modeling to analyze the effects of importation and indigenous deprivation theories. They found evidence supporting both perspectives but found that the key factor that determined which perspective was most accountable for inmates’ adaptation to prison subculture was their level of participation in the inmate economy (Hochstellar & DeLisa, 2005).

Features of prison subculture are:

a)    do not inform on your fellow prisoners,

b)    do not trust staff,

c)    help other residents,

d)    show your loyalty to other residents,

e)    share what you have.

Prison Subculture Articles

The first models of the prison subculture, such as those purported by Clemmer and Sykes, were rooted in the structural-functionalist paradigm of criminological thought. Alternative explanations, such as the importation model developed by Irwin theorize that the subculture of prison may not be centered around common norms and values.

Does integration have theoretical explanatory power when examining the contemporary prison subculture? Can an integrated approach inform penologists as to how females serve time? The present paper seeks to answer these questions. 

Theoretical Studies of the Prison Subculture: Contemporary Explanations for Female Inmates. - Courtney A. Waid, Florida State University.

Inmate Argot as an Expression of Prison Subculture: The Israeli Case - Tomer Einat and Haim Einat. The study examines the argot (jargon) of prisoners as a reflection of the norms and values comprising the inmate subculture or prison subculture in Israeli prisons. The phenomenological interview method was used to examine the language of a sample of long-term prisoners for the existence of an inmate argot. Having established that such an argot does exist, the data was subjected to a content analysis and the salience of the argot terms assessed using two measures, attention and intensity. The argot expressions were divided into categories with reference to different aspects of prison experience: prisoner status, drugs, sexual relations in prison, violence, prisoner behaviors, nicknames for police officers, and prison staff. 

Prison Subculture in Poland - Marek M. Kamiski, Don C. Gibbons.

This article draws on the prison experiences in Poland of the senior author to identify some of the major ingredients of the prison subculture in that country. The dominant inmate pattern of grypsing is described, as is the physical environment of Polish prisons. This article also examines "prisonization" processes and the norms of the grypsing group.

Some contrasts between American and Polish prisons are also noted. The post-soviet prison subculture faced with the use of self-management doctrines by the corrections administration.

This article on the post-soviet prison subculture shows the connection between the establishment of new informal rules in prisons and changes in the means of submission used by penitentiary institutions under Khrushchev, as well as the influence of the main principles of Anton Makarenko's collective pedagogics on the above-mentioned means.

Forecasting Sexual Abuse in Prison: The Prison Subculture of Masculinity as a Backdrop for Deliberate Indifference - Christopher D. Man, John P. Cronan.

Intraprison HIV Transmission and the Prison Subculture - Christopher P. Krebs, Research Triangle Institute - Two theoretical models have been employed to explain the prison subculture and inmate behavior. Prisonization model postulates that inmates react or adapt to the deprivations of imprisonment by forming the inmate subculture and behaving accordingly.