February 4, 2011
MAPPING THE SOCIAL LANDSCAPE READINGS
Reading #5 – Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison By: Craig Haney,
W. Curtis Banks, and Philip G. Zimbardo
-The social institution of prison has continued to fail.
Substantial evidence show that prisons really neither “rehabilitates” nor acts as a
deterrent to future crime.
They are additionally an economic failure.
American tax payers alone must provide an expenditure for “corrections” of
1.5 billion dollars annually.
They have failed on humanitarian grounds as well.
Mass media is increasingly filled with accounts of atrocities committed daily,
man on man, in reaction to the penal system or in the name of it.
It is central to a prevalent non-conscious ideology: the state of the social institution of
prison is due to the “nature” of the people who administrate it, or the “nature” of the
people who populate it, or both.
This hypothesis has been embraced by the proponents of the prison status quo
(blaming violence on the criminal disposition of prisoners), as well as by its critics
(attributing brutality of guards and staff to their sadistic structures).
It was difficult to make a critical evaluation of this hypothesis because naturalistic
observations confound the acute effects of the environment with the chronic
characteristics of the inmate and guard populations.
To partial out the situational effects of the prison environment, a research strategy in
which a “new” prison is constructed and prison-like situations are created where the
guards and inmates were initially comparable and characterized as being
The next step is to observe the patterns of behaviour which resulted and to record
cognitive, emotional, and attitudinal reactions that emerged.
-Recidivism is persistently relapsing into crime.
-An experimental simulation of a prison environment was created to study the effects of
playing the role of “guard” or “prisoner”.
-The roles were picked randomly and they were enacted over two weeks using information
from former inmates, correctional personnel, and texts.