Coping strategies and adjustment patterns among female inmates in a Nigerian prison.
Traditionally, prisons have been dominated by male inmates. Several authors (Craddock, 1996; Harris, 1993: Owen. 1998; Pollock. 2002: Jiang and Winfree, 2006) have argued that female inmates do not receive the same attention as their male counterparts from criminologists, penologists or policymakers. This observation gives credence to the views of feminists who see the underlying causes of women's neglect and inequality as deeply rooted in the patriarchal system of relationships in society--a system characterized by male dominance, hierarchy and competition (Eteng, 2011). This trend means that the challenges in the prisons--overcrowding, isolation, social stigmatization, poor rehabilitation programs, poor health and social facilities--are far more experienced by female inmates who suffer maladaptive responses such as emotional disorders, self-mutilation, suicide attempts and prison misbehavior.
Although much is known about prisons in Nigeria (Iwarimie-Jaja, 1999; Amnesty International, 2008: Odekunle. 2007), little is known about the social world of female inmates in particular (that is. how they adjust and adapt) in the prison milieu that is characterized by several physical and psychological deprivations. The goal of this study, therefore, is to understand female inmates' responses and coping strategies in the culturally-distinct. Nigerian prison system and in particular, the Nigerian prison situated in Abakaliki, Ebonyi's state capital. The study examines the patterns and factors associated with different responses to prison by female inmates in this correctional institution (Jiang and Winfree Jr., 2006).
The Abakaliki Prison
The Nigerian prison system has a total of 54,156 inmates. Of this number, 1,004 are female inmates (Nigerian Prison Services, 2013). Amnesty International (2008) and Iwarimie-Jaja (1999) reported that the conditions in Nigerian prisons are appalling and pitiable. Otu (2011) described the Abakaliki prison as appearing to have the worst conditions of all prisons in Nigeria. The Abakaliki prison has the capacity to accommodate 387 inmates, both male and female, but now houses 871 inmates. The female wing has two cells, which are supposed to house a maximum of six inmates in each of the cells, but instead house 12 inmates in one cell due to lack of accommodations (Abakaliki Prisons Recording Board. 2011). This state of affairs undoubtedly results in overcrowding--thereby impinging on the inmates' human rights.
The prison also lacks basic infrastructure and social amenities. The electrical power supply is very erratic. There are no recreational facilities and social support programs are poorly and inadequately provided. In the course of this study, the authors observed that only two toilets are provided, and a lack of water to flush excreta results in many diseases such as fungi, bacteria and Candida infections. The architectural design consists of two semidetached cell rooms, with an assemblage of formidable iron bars that form the doors, resulting in poor ventilation. Compound-like surroundings with a devotional hall in its opposite direction welcomes visitors first before they gain access to the filthy, overcrowded cells. The prison clinic serves up to 60 inmates daily for cholera, malaria and other communicable diseases. If a serious illness occurs that requires specialized treatment that an inmate's relatives are not able to afford, the inmate is likely to die (Iyizoba. 2009). Though inmates are allowed to have periodic visitors, such visits are frequently conducted under hostile supervision by prison officials who often cut visiting hours short or exercise undue monitoring of conversations between inmates and their visitors.
The aim of this article is to explore, as Morris (2008) explained, the universality of theoretical concepts to better understand inmate coping strategies and experiences in different prison systems. This study focused on the following questions: "What factors are associated with positive and negative responses to prison life in these deprived environments?;" and "To what extent do the conditions and operational features of these prisons or preprison experiences influence how female inmates serve their time in the prisons?"
The terms "prison experiences," "coping strategies" and "adjustment patterns"--as used conjointly and/or interchangeably in this study--refer to an inmate's daily encounters, as well as her capacity to vary or manipulate behavior in such a manner that she is able to derive maximum social life utility within the prison's social setting. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) and Coelho, Hamburg and Adams (1974) described a "coping strategy" as the cognitive and behavioral response an individual employs to manage stress, or deal with some perceived threat or stressful circumstance. Reactions to stress, such as depression, loneliness, nervousness, withdrawal, self-estrangement, loss of privacy, boredom and personal threats; and unfriendly living conditions, such as gossip, jealousy and hostility between inmates or staff, are key issues of inmates' adjustment to prison. Conversely, active participation in the various psychological and sociological trainings: or vocational training such as tailoring, fashion designing, kerosene stove making, drum making, hand fan making and carpentry are examples of coping strategies and are strongly embedded in the generic concept of adjustment patterns.
Adjustment is a function of adaptation to a new circumstance, a new environment or a new condition (Encarta Premium, 2006). The concept connotes a continuous manipulation of the physical, psychological and mental state of a person, and the utilization of the skills and experiences that facilitate blending into the society to which one belongs. Animasahun's (2010), Gate and Gersilds' (1993), and Bakare's (1990) definitions of adjustment cut across one another. They show that adjustment connotes the ability of a person to manipulate his or her new life situations and experiences (attitude) to produce a more harmonious relationship between himself or herself and his or her environment; or the ability to get along and be comfortable in his or her particular social settings. The importance of adjustment lies in the fact that a person who is capable of adjusting is equally capable of being a happy, hopeful and productive person in any situation he or she finds him or herself (Animasahun, 2002; Animasahun. 2003). The person must be tolerant, adaptive, self-disciplined, creative, innovative, focused, goal-oriented and content. In this study, adjustment and coping strategies are measured by how and what female inmates in Abakaliki prisons do in order to overcome the negative experiences of imprisonment.
A number of competing theories explain the experiences and adjustment patterns of inmates to prison life. These theories are the deprivation (subcultural theory), importation and integrated (alliance) models. Morris (2008) explained that the two preceding theories are dominant in penal or correctional literature.
The deprivation model (Clemmer. 1958; McCorkle and Korn, 1954; Sykes, 1958; Cloward, 1960) holds the view that the coercive nature of prison institutions is what determines how an inmate copes and adjusts to prison life. An inmate's adjustment pattern is, therefore, a function of the deprivations inherent in the prison so that the inmate's preprison experiences are far less significant and play only a tangential role, if at all, in molding an inmate's attitudes and behaviors. According to this perspective, the prohibitive and coercive nature of the prison, along with the shared pains of incarceration, significantly influences inmate responses to prison life (Bondeson, 1989; Sykes, 1958). A type of deprivation model, the "situational functionalist model," explains that an inmate's response and subsequent adjustment pattern are apparently a direct function of the institutional characteristics such as the kind of disciplinary measures in place, size and physical layout, or objectives of the organization (Berk, 1966).
Sykes (1958) coined the phrase "pains of imprisonment," which is defined as the deprivation of an inmate's liberty, goods and services, sexual relations, security and contact with friends and family. In order to cope with these deprivations, an inmate must live by "inmate code"--a set of rules that reflects the values of the prison. According to Thomas and Petersen (1980), inmate code represents an organization of criminal values in clear-cut opposition to the values of conventional society.
The second dominant model of inmate adjustment is the importation model, which is opposite of the deprivation model. Proponents of this model (Irwin, 1970; Irwin and Cressey, 1962; Cline and Wheeler. 1968) contend that an inmate's responses, coping techniques, experiences and adjustment in prison are shaped by their preprison experiences and orientation, which originate, and are sustained, by the norms and values (subcultures) outside of prison. Irwin and Cressey (1962) view inmates as doing considerably more than simply responding to immediate, prison-specific problems. Cultural elements, they argued, are imported into the prisons from the outside world. Morris (2008) observed that researchers have empirically tested both models, and in most cases found that both theoretical perspectives offer convincing explanations for what accounts for inmate experiences and adjustment to prison.
These explanatory models have become significant in studies of women's experiences and adjustment in prisons, especially in the 1960s and 1970s (Kruttschnitt, Gartner and Miller. 2000), with some of the scholars carefully integrating the two models together. Giallombardo's (1966) study showed that inmates developed an elaborate kinship system, which is often based on the traditional gender identities that inmates bring into the institution, but is reinforced by the domestic regime and therapeutic orientation of women's prisons.
In this article, the authors' guiding conceptual framework is the integrative model. This model is also referred to as the "alliance" model and brings together relevant theoretical variables of these perspectives (Otu, 2012). The authors' choice of integrating the deprivation and importation models is premised on the understanding that gender role is neither monolithic nor inflexible, and that there is considerable diversity in women's life experiences both in and out of prisons. The choice of integrating these models is also due to an understanding of the capacity of human beings to manipulate and maneuver situations, endure circumstances and reflect on past experiences and future events.
Farrell (2000) and Diaz-Cotto (2002) observed that in most developing nations, female inmates are exposed to inhumane treatment, such as poor sanitary conditions or emotional trauma, that interferes with rehabilitation. During the past few decades, research has shown that women respond differently to prison than men (Fox. 1992; Hawkins, 1999; Irwin, 2005). Morris (2008) observed that where gender is concerned, there are distinctive differences in adjustments to prison life. For a woman, the most difficult aspect of prison life is the separation from children, partners and loved ones (Adams. 1992; Fox, 1992; Hawkins. 1999; Henriques, 1982; Henry-Lee. 2005; Irwin. 2005).
In a 1965 study. Ward and Kassebaum found that women reacted to prison very differently from men by refusing to identity with inmate subculture and notions of inmate solidarity; and often depended solely on primary relationships--often intimate, sexual relationships with other women--to extenuate the pains of imprisonment. These differences are rooted in the social roles being played in the free world (such as being wives or mothers) and in psychological needs (such as being family-centered, children- centered or relationship-oriented) that are unsatisfied in the prison world (Pollock. 1990; Harris. 1993; Sokoloff. 2003, 2005). Ward and Kassebaum (1965) also found that women in prison felt a loss of control over their lives and seemed to suffer from higher anxiety and a greater need for affection due to the loss of family contacts and male partners.
To adjust to this loss of control and overcome anxiety, female inmates often participate in a prison social system to regain a sense of belonging. Hagel-Seymour (1982) observed that female inmates who maintained civil, good-natured relationships with custodial staff adjusted more favorably and were more disposed to positive adjustment than their counterparts. Kruttschnitt et. al. (2000); Kruttschnitt (2005); Lombardo (1982); Wooldredge (1999); and Wright (1991, 1993) found that in North America and Europe, inmates have access to a variety of rehabilitative programs; experience cordial interactions between other inmates and custodial staff: have less coercive and restrictive institutional rules; and experience the promotion and tolerance of inmate independence and control over their environment--which are in line with the democratic culture of these countries and the constitutional law in the U.S.
Giallambardo (1966) described the world of imprisoned women as based upon sex-role adaptation and family or kinship structures. She explained that the social order of a women's prison is based on an adaptation of traditional feminine roles such as mother, daughter and wife. Heffernan (1972) explained that female inmates adjust to prison by organizing their prison identities around two things: their preprison identities and their differential adaptation to the prison subculture--suggesting an integration of deprivation and importation models. Women in Heffernan's study who did not define themselves as serious criminals prior to prison adopted the "square" orientation of life--meaning they continue to uphold conventional behaviors and attitudes by trying to restrict themselves from participating in the inmate social system during their imprisonment. In contrast, women who adapted to prison life as "cool" became heavily invested in a prison-based identity, and tended to develop a form of coping that is based on prison values of individuality, coercion, restrictions and shared pains. Finally, some women tend to retain their street identity of the petty criminal and adopt the "life" as their style of coping in the prison by engaging in actions that run contrary to prison rules, such as pilfering, selling illicit drugs and rebelling against officials (Heffernan. 1972). Interestingly, Helfeman's argument seems to find concordance with patterns of female inmate adjustment in Abakaliki prisons, where prison subculture among women is tied to gender expectations of sexuality and family relationships, and the roles that these expectations play in shaping the way they spent, their time within the prison.
Researchers have found that emotion-focused strategies and some problem-focused strategies significantly correlate with psychosocial adjustment in prisons (Carver and Scheier, 1994; Scheier, Weintraub and Carver, 1986). Negy, Woods and Charson (1997) found that some coping strategies employed by female inmates were associated with higher levels of psychosocial adjustments. Significant to the study in this article is the fact that Negy et. al. found that inmates who displayed high levels of rationality (i.e., those who took proactive steps toward dealing with a problem; restrained themselves from spontaneous reactions: planned courses of actions for reentry into society; reinterpreted stressful events in a positive note; accepted unpleasant events rather philosophically: or who turned to religion for consolation) reported feeling better about themselves, less depressed, less stressed and less anxious compared to their counterparts who were physically withdrawn and were in self-denial.
Table 1. Characteristics of Respondents Offense Committed Frequency (Out of 18) Murder 4 Other violent offenses 2 Property offense 1 Drug offense (sale of Indian hemp) 5 Human trafficking 6 Religion Christianity 15 Islam 3 Marital Status Single 13 Married 4 Widowed 1 Ethnic Group Igbo 11 Hausa 2 Yoruba 2 South-South 3 Occupation Public servant 1 Trader 3 Fanner 2 Craftswomen/semiskilled worker 5 Other/students 7 Years of Incarceration Less than 1 year 4 1 -2 years 5 3-4 years 7 5 years and above 2
An inmate's participation in jobs within the prison has also been shown to enhance an inmate's ability to deal with an often hostile prison environment, and enrich the quality of day-to- day life (Fagan, 1989; Ryan and McCabe, 1994). Pro-social support mechanisms--particularly those originating outside the prison such as job skill building--may ameliorate negative institutional forces and the "pains of imprisonment" (Sykes. 1958). As a result, these mechanisms subsequently reduce the occurrence of official rule violations in prison (Gordon, 1999; Toch and Adams. 1989).
Sample and sampling technique. This study uses data collected on female inmates in the Abakaliki prison. The design of the study was qualitative, cross-sectional and experience-coping/adjustment-based. In addition, the subjects' educational levels, ages, religious affiliations and offense categories were taken into account. The pretest study of the prison showed that female inmates in the prison were relatively fewer in number than their male counterparts, as well as when compared to female inmates in other prisons. It was also noted that some of the subjects may have been released before or while the Held interviews took place. As a result, a specific sampling frame could not be drawn for the study. These and other considerations led the researchers to use a nonprobability (convenience and purposive) sampling technique. In total, 23 female inmates in the Abakaliki prison initially agreed to participate in the study. However, only 18 were able to be interviewed, as two inmates were not interviewed due to severe mental impairment and the remaining three inmates were dropped because a level of incoherence was observed in their responses.
Procedure. A qualitative, in-depth oral interview was employed to gather information from the subjects. Kelle (1997) defines qualitative research as the collection and analysis of unstructured data in order to develop concepts, categories, hypotheses and theories, or mere descriptions of social life worlds. An interview guide was developed and validated by an experienced researcher in the Ebonyi State University Abakaliki Sociology Department. The reliability of the guide was confirmed by the test-retest technique, with a reliability coefficient of 0.74 obtained by the Pearson Product Moment-Correlation. The interview guide contained questions that sought information about the sociodemographic characteristics of the subjects, as well as their prison experiences, challenges, coping mechanisms and adjustment patterns.
Since the prison was a closed system with restricted access, the researchers sought and obtained permission from the prison authorities to gain access to the participants. Before the commencement of the interviews, inmates were duly briefed on the purpose of the study and interview procedures, and their consent was obtained in accordance with ethics of social science research. Interviews were conducted by two researchers and a post-graduate research assistant in a private office provided by correctional officials. Only the interviewers and the interviewee were present.
A request for permission to tape the discussion was denied by prison officials. As a result, information was recorded by handwritten notes, which were completed by the research assistant and one researcher, and were transcribed within 24 hours of the interview. The field work took place from March 4-April 11. 2012. Each interview lasted for an average of 35 minutes. During the interviews, using the interview guide, the researchers occasionally employed the techniques of word association or sentence completion in probing into issues that the researchers felt the interviewee was finding difficult to understand or explain.
Data collection and analysis ran concurrently, with new analytic steps informing the process of additional data collection, and new data informing the analytic processes--so that the qualitative data analysis processes may not entirely be distinguishable from the actual data. Following the path of many qualitative analytic strategies, and by means of inductive reasoning processes, data from the interviews were analyzed by means of "constant comparative analysis" and followed the grounded theory approach (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). Through this strategy, each piece of data (one interview, one statement and one concept) was taken and compared with all others that may be similar or different--a process that was made relatively easier by the small number of participants. This process led the researchers to develop concepts (themes) of the possible relations between various pieces of data and capture variations within the group of study participants so that the data analysis was thematic (Otu, 2011; Morris, 2008). Once all themes or constructs were developed, the next step was to figure out additional questions by synthesizing and developing inmates' prison coping strategies and adjustment patterns. The subheads included--besides sociodemographic characteristics--relationships among inmates, relationships between inmates and prison staff, institutional (prison) characteristics and preprison experiences.
Results revealed that inmates hold both positive and negative views of their prison experiences. These views--and subsequent coping strategies and adjustment patterns to prison life--are largely dependent on variables such as socioeconomic class, religion, marital status, education, age and time spent in prison. Ultimately, responses depended on what inmates found to be unique characteristics of prison, and what life experiences inmates brought into the prisons (deprivation and importation models). For example, many of the subjects had been abused sexually and/or physically at some point prior to their incarceration. Morris (2008) found among her Jamaican male and female respondents the same differential effects of imprisonment, and that differential responses were products of a wide range of factors, such as individual perceptions, idiosyncrasies, institutional regime, social networks with other inmates and the prison staff.
In line with the situational functionalist deprivation model, some of the study participants described the Abakaliki prison as "the end of the world." "unfamiliar" and "hell on earth," which is in line with the situational functionalist deprivation model. For these inmates, deprivation associated with prison life significantly influenced their experiences and subsequent adjustment. The study found that female inmates in the Abakaliki prison--irrespective of age, religion and social class--experienced shock, disillusion and restlessness when they were first admitted into the prison due to internal structures, settings and operations in the prison. The researchers found this scenario of shock and disillusionment to be particularly strong among those who were in prison for the first time, the more educated inmates, and middle class and wealthy inmates. One inmate said of her experience: "On arrival, I thought the world had ended on me; even when I had spent some months here, I kept crying and crying inconsolably. I wept all day, embarked on [a] hunger strike and became worried as I kept asking myself. "Where am I? I am in prison.'"
The researchers found mixed results in inmates' social relationships as both a coping strategy and an adjustment pattern. Female inmates in the Abakaliki prison cope and adjust to prison life either by making friends with both inmates and staff, or engaging in self-indulgence and withdrawal. Those who found making friends a satisfactory coping and adjustment mechanism were generally educated, middle class and married inmates. Inmates who preferred to spend their time in prison by withdrawing from one another either psychosocially or physically did so as a result of what the inmates described as the "gossip nature" of fellow female inmates. Friendship was casual and devoid of intimacy for fear of being seen as deviant by staff who perceived friendship as threatening to the prison's safe operation. Inmates complained that they were abused, punished and denied basic necessities by staff at the slightest provocation.
In addition, the researchers found that those who were married and had children experienced more excruciating "prison pains" than their unmarried and childless counterparts. Harris (1993) explained that female inmates' values are generally traditional because as a group, they are children-centered. family-centered and relationship-oriented. From this study, it was also clear that female inmates in the Abakaliki prison adjusted to prison life by becoming more active in religious activities. For example, a 41-year-old subject explained that she served her time with less difficulty because of her religion. She explained that she eased off the worries of her imprisonment by participating actively in church programs that permitted her to feel better any time she was in "pain." This finding is significant in that Nigerians generally, and Nigerian women in particular, are described as highly religious people--with more than 80 percent of Nigerians participating in religious activities (NationMaster, 2013).
The findings in this study confirm variations in inmate adaptations and responses to prison life in substandard environments. In addition--and critical to the concept of imprisonment--the findings in this study confirm the applicability of theoretical constructs in correctional research across various cultural contexts. There was also evidential support for the integrative/alliance theory, which was previously described as embodying traditional importation, deprivation, mature coping and respite models of prison adjustment (Irwin. 1970; Otu, 2012; Clemmer, 1958; Johnson, 1987).
For most inmates, the poor and inhumane prison setting means that adjustment to the reality of prison life was a much more herculean task, their preprison experiences notwithstanding. From an importation perspective, it is evident to the researchers that for a large number of the respondents, pre-prison life circumstances influenced how they responded to the prison settings--as exemplified by some lower and middle class respondents who, either because of their preprison harsh conditions or good sense of social networking, did not find it difficult to cope or adjust. First-time inmates and the majority of the middle class and wealthy inmates, due to their preprison social life, found it more difficult to cope and adjust.
In terms of preprison experiences, since most of the participants came from abusive backgrounds, it was of little surprise to the researchers that their experiences of sexual and verbal abuses-both as children and adults--had a significant influence in shaping their coping and adjustment patterns. This manifested in the manner that inmates responded to prison rules and regulations. Some of the participants saw these rules and regulations as a continuation of the abuses they experienced before imprisonment.
From the onset, the researchers also anticipated that variables and factors such as the inmates' age, class, years of incarceration and religious practices were all significant in shaping their adjustment patterns. Applegate, Cullen, Fisher and Vander Ven (2000) observed that throughout the history of penal practice, religion has been a major force in shaping the ways offenders adjust and cope both within and outside the prisons. Unofficial reports on the gender-religion ratio in Nigeria suggest that females show more commitment to practicing religion than men.
Many of the older inmates in the study sample persevere because of their ages and substantial years they have spent in prison. Kruttschnitt et. al. (2000) indicated that many of the older inmates who have spent several years in prison typically have a resigned attitude toward serving time and have developed ways to keep themselves busy as the time passes. In this study, these older inmates (both by years incarcerated and age) described their early years in prison as particularly hard and usually characterized by depression or rebellion, but have learned how to "do their own time" and "not let their time do them."
Job-related skills were also found to help inmates meet their personal needs in the inmate society. Study participants who came into prison with various job-related skills consistently held prison jobs. Owen (1998) attests that once middle class and more educated women overcome the shock of their incarceration, they learn that the application of their middle class skills and values--such as respect for authority, engaging in activities and practicing their faith--may go a long way in negotiating the prison environment.
Conclusion and Policy Implication
This study examined and appraised the experiences, coping strategies and adjustment patterns of women in prisons within the perspective of the alliance model. Although the size of the sample is not statistically encouraging, the analyses of the responses, and the subsequent discussion that followed, demonstrate a high level of consistency with extant literature, and also with the prediction of the researchers' integrated deprivation and importation models of adaptations to prison. The analyses from this study showed that female inmates in the Abakaliki prison engage in adjustment patterns that include: self-withdrawal, indulgence and some level of social reclusion (asceticism); forging cordial relationships with fellow inmates and staff; and participating very actively in the religious programs within the prisons. This pattern of adjustment is significant in view of the harsh realities of prison life. This latter pattern of adjustment (i.e., active participation in religious activities) is particularly important because it indicates, however superficial, clear evidence of repentance and change by the adherent and/or practicing inmates. Age, marital status, religion, educational qualifications, length of incarceration, social class and relationships with other inmates and staff are all crucial in the manner and level of adjustment by female inmates in this prison system.
Other adjustment patterns unique to female inmates in the Abakaliki prison include: commitment to official rules and regulations that guide inmates; commitment to practicing preprison job-related skills and holding good prison jobs; and adjustment and commitment to educational programs within the prison. Though all female inmates experience certain difficulties, such as being disconnected with family members and relatives while in prison, the level of these difficulties and how they adjust to them somewhat varies. Thus, the study found that the particular ways in which women inmates in the Abakaliki prison dealt with their concerns and spent their time while in prison were much less uniform.
The authors feel that the findings in this study demonstrate an urgent need to develop social supports that recognize the biogenic peculiarities of female inmates in Nigerian prisons. Such social supports should make both their experiences and adjustment less excruciating and demeaning of their womanhood. Limited funding within the prison system are serious handicaps to providing social supports that afford inmates their basic rights to proper care and treatment--something to which they are constitutionally entitled. Once the issues pertaining to female inmates are addressed, the Abakaliki prison and the Nigerian society will be better- equipped to accomplish two important objectives of incarceration--rehabilitation and reformation.
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Smart E. Otu, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in the Federal University Department of Political Science/Psychology/Sociology in Ndufu Alike, Ikwo, Nigeria. Sorochi Otu is an administrative officer in the Department of Social Work at the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki in Nigeria. Mary J. Eteng, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in the Federal University Department of Political Science/Psychology/Sociology in Ndufu Alike, Ikwo, Nigeria.
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|Author:||Otu, Smart E.; Otu, Sorochi; Eteng, Mary J.|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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