Coercive organizations are total institutions in which membership is typically forced rather than voluntary. Coercive organizations are typically cut off from the rest of society and have high security measures in place in order to keep the inmates from leaving. Inmates are forced to live under a strict set of rules and rigid routines that regulate all the affairs of everyday life such as mandating how the inmates dress, when they eat, when they go to sleep, and when they wake up. The staff of coercive organizations has complete power over the inmates. Inmates, on the other hand, are often forced to completely give up the right to privacy and are subjected to various "degradation ceremonies" intended to either force them to surrender their former identity, reinforce the power structure of the organization, or both.
Keywords Coercive Organization; Confederate; Experiment; Formal Organization; Interview; Normative Organization; Organization; Secondary Group; Socialization; Social Role; Society; Subject; Survey Research; Total Institution; Utilitarian Organization; Coercive Organizations
Social Interaction in Groups
Through personal correspondence with an inmate of the United States prison system, it is possible to learn a number of aspects of not only the criminal justice system but of life in a total institution that one would be hard-pressed to gain even from research literature. Although one can read in textbooks and journal articles about strict controls, hierarchical authority structures, and other features of such institutions, the insights of an insider — an insider who in many ways has no voice in the organization — were revealing. Coping mechanisms that would usually deescalate a conflict or resolve a problem are prone to failure in the prison system because of the different sets of expectations and rules of the prison. In general, normal living concerns, interests, and protocol do not apply within the walls of a coercive organization. While the need for society to punish those who trespass its rules is obvious, it is not obvious whether the punishment fits the crime or whether such institutions were not set up to encourage rather than correct bad behavior. It is not only prisons, however, that are total institutions. Psychiatric wards (where behavior is strictly regulated on the ward as well as the access to enter and exit from the ward) are only gained by a key foster, which helps to create a stifling, coercive environment.
Both the prison and the psychiatric ward are examples of coercive organizations, formal organizations in which membership is typically forced rather than voluntary. Formal organizations are large, highly organized secondary groups that are structured to efficiently accomplish one or more tasks and meet goals. According to some categorizations, there are three types of formal organizations:
- Coercive organizations, which one is forced to join (e.g., the correctional institution or the psychiatric ward),
- Normative organizations that one joins voluntarily in order to pursue a common interest or to gain personal satisfaction or prestige (e.g., political parties, religious organizations, and sororities and fraternities), and
- Utilitarian organizations that are voluntarily joined in order to gain a material reward (e.g., universities and business organizations).
Characteristics of the Coercive Organization
Prisoners are forced to join the correctional institution by legal mandate. On their own, very few people would be willing to voluntarily join such a coercive organization. Although some people voluntarily commit themselves to psychiatric institutions, for the most part, membership in these organizations is coerced rather than voluntary as well. In addition to the characteristic of having nonvoluntary membership, coercive organizations also typically have high security measures in place in order to keep their membership from leaving (e.g., the guards and towers of the prison; the locked doors of the psychiatric ward). As mentioned above, coercive organizations are considered to be total institutions. In these institutions, the inmates are both cut off from the rest of society and forced to live under a strict set of rules.
Coercive organizations have two levels of membership: inmates and staff. Staff members join these organizations voluntarily, typically in order to earn a living. As a result, what is a coercive organization from the point of view of the inmate is a utilitarian organization from the point of view of the staff. In a coercive organization, the staff has complete power over the inmates, including all the affairs of everyday life such as eating and sleeping. Typically, coercive organizations are characterized by rigid routines and formal rules of behavior. In both examples of the correctional institution and the psychiatric ward, the organization mandates how the inmates dress, when they eat, when they go to sleep, and when they wake up. In such organizations, inmates completely give up the right to privacy and are subjected to various "degradation ceremonies" intended to either force the inmates to surrender their former identity, reinforce the power structure of the organization, or both.
Both prisons and psychiatric wards are designed in part to protect the community against potential danger. Increasingly, however, this goal is accompanied by another goal: the socialization of the inmates. Socialization is the process in which individuals learn to differentiate between what the society regards as acceptable versus unacceptable behavior and act in a manner that is appropriate for the needs of the society. Given the goal of socialization, one might expect to see a reduction in the number of coercive organizations and an increase in organizations that allow inmates to learn and demonstrate their social skills. However, coercive organizations continue to flourish. Thomas (1977) examined socialization within a coercive setting in order to better understand prisonization and its consequences. Using a survey research design that included both interviews and questionnaires, the study tested six hypotheses:
- The first of these was that the greater the similarity between the attitudes, values, and behavior from the pre-prison experience in the inmates' society, the greater the assimilation into the inmates' subculture.
- Second, it was hypothesized that the more the formal organization relied on coercion, the more alienated inmates would become from the organization.
- Third, it was hypothesized that the more positive extra-prison influences (e.g., contacts with larger society, self evaluations of post-release chances) experienced by the inmate, the less likely that the use of coercive power would result in alienation.
- Fourth, it was hypothesized that the greater the alienation experienced, the greater the assimilation into the inmate subculture.
- Fifth, it was hypothesized that the more pro-social and supportive an inmate's extra-prison influences were, the less likely the inmate was to be assimilated into the inmate subculture.
- Finally, it was hypothesized that the more an inmate was assimilated into the subculture, the less likely it was that the organization would meet its goal of resocializing the inmate.
Using interviews and questionnaires, the researcher collected data from the subjects (276 adult male felons from a single penal institution) regarding their feelings of powerlessness, post-prison expectations, normative assimilation, social role adaptation, criminal identification, and opposition to the legal system. The results of the study strongly supported the hypotheses and concomitant theoretical model. It was found that pre-prison, prison-specific, and extra-prison factors were directly linked with assimilation. Assimilation, in turn, was found to be directly linked with both the short and long-term consequences of confinement. Thomas concluded that the ways in which inmates adapt to incarceration are due in part to problems inherent to confinement in coercive prison settings, as well as due to a variety of other factors neither caused by the prison nor under its control. In addition, it was concluded that in maximum-security prisons that rely heavily on coercive power to control inmates, the inmate subculture will evolve in such a way to reduce the effectiveness of socialization attempts.
Investigating Behaviors within a...
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