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incarceration or institutionalization can delay emotional growth

  1. Feb 16, 2014 #1
    "...incarceration or institutionalization can delay emotional growth"

    I once read a criminal profile of a serial killer made by a forensic psychologist. The forensic psychologist wrote the following: "Age is difficult to predict because this analysis is a measure of an offender’s emotional age as opposed to his chronological age. Factors such as incarceration or institutionalization can delay the emotional growth of an individual."

    This seems counterintuitive to me. I have always thought that hardship makes a person more mature. The forensic psychologist was profiling a criminal in America. American prisons are generally fairly rough (violent) places. Incarceration in an American prison would certainly seem like a hardship to me. To me, I would have thought that incarceration would tend to make a person more mature rather than more immature (if it had any effect on a person's maturity level). The forensic psychologist however said that incarceration can delay the emotional growth of an individual.

    Do you people agree with the psychologist that incarceration can delay the emotional growth of an individual? Has anyone ever researched this?

    How or why would incarceration delay the emotional growth of an individual?
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2014 #2


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    My guess would be that the offender has little opportunity to interact with normal people in a non prison setting which impedes the growth of real maturity. Instead he must look upon his fellow offenders as dangerous and unpredictable just as they view him. He begins to follow the law of the jungle, joins a pack or develops a cooperative survival strategy. Once released he must learn to live again and to trust people and be trusted.

    On top of that offenders are interested in getting of prison in any way they can, by taking courses, writing letters of apology to the victims where they minimize their crime and getting religion. There is no growth of maturity when everything they think and do centers around them and their desire to impress the parole board and get out of prison.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
  4. Feb 16, 2014 #3


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    If you are in an environment where the only way to settle an dispute is with your fists (assuming you haven't acquired some "more effective" weapons somehow), will that make you a more mature person?
  5. Feb 16, 2014 #4
  6. Feb 20, 2014 #5
    Good info, Enigman.
    Once, back when I was entry level in a machine shop, they hired a new guy who was straight out of a long stint in the Marines. The boss told me to train him in on the basic stuff.

    Eventually I noticed he had a peculiar habit of explaining everything he was about to do, "I'm going to wash these parts now, then put them in the tumbler," "I'm going to take these over to Dave for him to drill the holes," "I'm going to start deburring these aluminum ones, now," "I'm going to go take a leak now," etc.

    He did it before he initiated any new activity whatever. It became annoying. Eventually it occurred to me this report of every future act for my consideration must have been something he had to do in the Marines. Since I'd been designated to train him in, he regarded me as some sort of authority whom he was required to provide with a running update of his activity.

    I think "Dependence on institutional structure and contingencies," probably emotionally cripples anyone who is part of any heavy handed institution. They lose all sense of how to function autonomously outside that structure.
  7. Feb 20, 2014 #6


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    I think you're right.
  8. Feb 22, 2014 #7

    I disagree with all of the replies so far. In my original post, I asked if incarceration could delay the emotional growth of an individual. I also asked how or why incarceration could delay emotional growth.

    You people responded by pointing out ways that incarceration could make an individual socially immature, but you did not point out ways that incarceration could make an individual emotionally immature.
  9. Feb 22, 2014 #8
    An emotionally immature person is controlled by his emotions. An emotionally mature person controls his emotions.

    Social immaturity and emotional immaturity are different things.
  10. Feb 21, 2015 #9
    First a little history as to where my thoughts and comments come from. I was myself institutionalized as a young person. I spent the years from 1961 to 1970 in and out of a state hospital. My experiences and observations there shape these comments.

    Lest anyone think otherwise, just as in a prison, punishment was a very large element in the normal functioning of the institutional hospital ward. Every patient was expected to do what he was told. Authority was absolute and held by those nurse technicians and staff who were there every day. All our rights as human beings were stripped from us. In fact, prisoners today enjoy more rights by law than were ever had by people put into mental institutions. It is also important to know that at the time I was first put in an institution people were still being committed because their families or in the case of some married women, their husbands did not want them around anymore. While I was diagnosed at age fourteen as schizophrenic and put on psychotropic drugs and spent years in and out of the institution, years later, when side effects forced me to discontinue the drugs, I discovered that in fact I wasn't schizophrenic at all and never needed the drugs that so affected my sensibilties and personal freedom for so many years previous.

    Here are my thoughts : Incarceration or institutionalization provides an artificial environment in which people cannot freely express themselves , nor can their honest perceptions be validated. In this type of environment, conformity and obedience go hand in hand with ones survival and personal welfare/safety. In such an artificial restrictive environment choices are very limited, so the reflection and personal investment required for making good choices or learning from bad choices is in large part outside the world of the imprisoned/institutionalized. I believe that a person must be truly free to make his own choices and that it is the process of making choices and learning from these choices that a person grows emotionally. Emotional growth requires a personal investment.

    In an institution, survival frequently demands the denial of self needs, individuality, and even one's moral code since the culture inside is not infrequently affected and controlled by sadistic people who enjoy punishing those who stand out and don't fit in to their idea of what the inmates should or should not be like or act like. Staff on power trips are always there somewhere.
    Also, labels rule in the institution. Control over others is provided by having two very separate agendas according to whether you are part of the group in charge or whether you are part of the group imprisoned/institutionalized.
    Another aspect of this institutionalized environment is the need/desire of those in charge to administer punishment for non-compliant behavior. A prisoner will be isolated and lose privileges; an institutional patient will be isolated (seclusion) , lose privileges, plus be administered powerful doses of psychotropic drugs meant to subdue or knock them for a loop and keep them quiet.

    Bottom line: Emotional growth requires the elements of honesty , reflection, choice--ie freedom to choose. I would argue that a choice made under circumstances which do not allow for these requirements is not really a choice. In a prison or other institution, ones survival is the uppermost goal, and moral compromises are often made for the sake of survival. This compromise of self and morality impede and confuse emotional growth and stabilty. One might survive this experience but he will not be emotionally healthier as a result of this.

    People who face tragedies and are free to work through them, can indeed grow emotionally and learn from some really difficult and terrible experiences, but they must be free to do so. On the other hand, we all know people who avoid thinking about or deeply reflecting upon or examining their own choices and behaviors in life. As a result they do not take responsibility for them, are unable to learn from or move beyond them, think they can't change , and don't emotionally grow because of this.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2015
  11. Feb 24, 2015 #10


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    It's called "drill." Setting the routine into his mind. Reduces the number of mistakes.
  12. Feb 24, 2015 #11
    My husband was in the service for twenty years and is now retired military. He always tells me that individual thinking is not welcomed. The military culture doesn't do well when its soldiers start to reflect upon or think about things outside the box. It would be an expected result then that some people getting out of the military would have more trouble thinking and acting independently -especially if they had been in combat situations where the imperative to follow orders without thinking about them, ie. automatically, is connected to the troops welfare and success in combat. In the military doing things by the book is a big deal and the book doesn't have an index listing 'personal options for interpretation/actions.
  13. Feb 24, 2015 #12


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    A military guy once told me that the reason they don't want older people in the military is partially this;
    if your older than, say, 30 and never been in the military, you are more likely to have your own ideas of how
    to do things and your way of thinking is not as easily malleable as that of a younger person with less life and
    overall experience. EDIT: this may be the reverse situation of that of ZoobyShoe's soldier.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015
  14. Feb 24, 2015 #13


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    Maybe because the person must hide his (most likely a man, prison ratio around 9:1 male: female) emotions , to avoid being vulnerable in a situation where let his guard down. Then, not being able to have genuine emotions, he cannot get to understand his inner psychological workings, which is necessary to be able to develop emotionally. Notice the advice you hear ( or at least I have heard), you're given about how to handle yourself when you're in tough neighborhoods: don't make eye contact, don't show emotions....vulnerability is a luxury you cannot afford in the jungle.

    EDIT: I think it is more accurate to say that a mature person can regulate/manage , instead of control their emotions.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015
  15. Feb 24, 2015 #14


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    Completely agree. Think of how effective it would be to have a soldier wondering, in the trenches, " Is this was fair"?" Is it moral for me to kill "?, etc. Thinking and reflecting cme at the expense of slowing down action. Conversely, those who reflect little tend to, and are able to, move faster.
  16. Mar 23, 2015 #15
    I agree that a person in prison has to hide his emotions to avoid being vulnerable.

    Here is where I disagree with you. A prison inmate has to hide his emotions, but I disagree with your statement that a prison inmate is not able to have genuine emotions. A person who hides his emotions still has emotions. He just does not show his emotions. For example, a prison inmate must never show fear, but that does not mean that he does not feel the emotion of fear.

    "He cannot get to understand his inner psychological workings."

    I think this is just nonsense. What does inner psychological workings mean?

    You're saying that a difference between emotionally mature people and emotionally immature people is that emotionally mature people understand their inner psychological workings (whatever that means) and emotionally immature people don't.

    Just because a person hides their emotions does not mean that they don't feel emotions.

    To me, I don't see any substantive difference (relating to this topic) in the words regulate/manage and control.
  17. Mar 23, 2015 #16
    Bluespanishlady, your first post on this thread is my favorite reply so far.

    It might be true that emotional growth requires a personal investment. I wish I had some sort of other resources to corroborate this.

    Very interesting.
  18. Mar 23, 2015 #17


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  19. Mar 23, 2015 #18


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    This may be a clearer description/explanation for what I meant, by giving an example:
    I was feeling down tonight; I cannot _control_ the fact that I am feeling down, i.e., I cannot make it go away; instead, I need to manage it, i.e., I need to figure out what actions I can take to feel better. For that, I need to understand my inner workings, in the sense that : when I am down, it is usually because: I did not have enough human contact for a few days, or because I have been worried about my job/school and I have not gone out to relax, etc. a sort of "owner's manual" for your emotional states. But in order o understand these cause-effect relations of my emotional states, I need to experience my emotions in full, which it is difficult to do if my guard is usually up because I am in a situation, as in prison, where I may pay a high price for showing vulnerability.
  20. Jun 4, 2015 #19
    WWGD, I still disagree. You're saying that if you are experiencing emotional problems, you need to understand why you feel the way you do. But in order to understand why you feel the way you do, you need "to experience your emotions in full." I still don't see why you are not experiencing your emotions in full when you have to keep your guard up. The way I see it, if you feel sad, it takes more maturity to continue to be tough in a prison setting where you have to never show vulnerability. Maybe we will have to agree to disagree.
  21. Jun 5, 2015 #20
    zoobyshoe wrote: "I think "Dependence on institutional structure and contingencies," probably emotionally cripples anyone who is part of any heavy handed institution. They lose all sense of how to function autonomously outside that structure."

    I think that perhaps that is true of some prisons around the world, and it is probably true of the tiny minority of prisons in America even. When someone depends on the structure, then they don't have to manage their emotions as much. But I would think that the violence and hardship of most American prisons would have a greater effect on promoting maturity than the institutional structure of a prison would cause immaturity. Just my opinion.
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