Document Type Doctoral Thesis Author Peacock, Robert email@example.com URN etd-08032007-174859 Document Title Identity development of the incarcerated adolescent : a comparative analysis Degree DPhil (Criminology) Department Social Work and Criminology Supervisor
Advisor Name Title Prof A Theron Keywords
- incarcerated adolescent
- identity and incarceration
- prison gangs
- identity and crime
- prison victimisation
- prison conditions
- negative identity
- identity diffusion
- psychosocial moratorium
- adolescent identity
Date 2007-04-19 Availability restricted AbstractThe plight of the incarcerated adolescent has been mostly ignored throughout the centuries. Adolescence is perceived as the most critical developmental stage to achieve a personal identity, necessitated by the need to acquire new coping skills, particularly, in a complex society undergoing large scale socio-political transformation. In a prison environment marked by overcrowding, deviant subcultures, role stripping and loss of goods and autonomy, incarceration could, however, undermine feelings of uniqueness, self-value and a normative identity.
Due to a dearth of research on the identity development of the incarcerated adolescent, exploratory, descriptive, explanatory and comparative analyses were conducted. Erikson’s psychosocial theory served to guide this research. Through purposive sampling 83 incarcerated adolescent male research participants were included in this study. On the basis of the literature a questionnaire was developed that tested quantitatively a number of variables in relation to a quantitative assessment of the level of identity achieved by the research participants. Their level of identity development was assessed and compared with regard to the committing of different types of offences, parent-child and peer relationships, race and ethnic group, discrimination, and the relationship between the prison environment, the inmate code, prison victimisation, deviant group integration (prison gangs), treatment programs and individual identity development. Descriptive statistical analyses were utilised to describe the general characteristics of scores in the sample and to organise, summarise and visualise the data (frequency distributions, means and standard deviations). The inferential tests served to compare the levels of identity development of the research participants, and refer to the t-test, ANOVA, Correlation and Factor analysis. A Cronbach alpha of the Erikson scale was calculated that showed that the measuring instrument was reliable.
Analyses of the data revealed that the offending behaviour and subsequent incarceration of the research participants deprived them of an opportunity to create a psychosocial moratorium, thereby “arresting” greater interpersonal differentiation. In accordance with the process of epigenesis their delinquency could be viewed furthermore as a residue of a basic mistrust in themselves and others, a lack of belief in the future, their role and value confusion together with a lack of purpose and direction. In a deprived, hostile and isolated prison environment the findings of this study highlight in particular the compensatory nature of the prison gang in relation to the provision of an identity pathway, identity capital and a collective identity. Prison victimisation was a prevalent and pervasive feature of the institutional life of the research participants. Concerning the relationship between their victimisation and identity development, two significant correlations were established. Incarcerated adolescents with higher levels of identity development are less likely to be the victims of assault by more than one inmate at the same time or to be gang raped by other inmates. Research participants with a lower level of identity development are also more likely to exercise and use weights to enhance physical strength and to sleep as an escape mechanism. On the other hand, research participants who obtained a higher level of identity development are more likely to employ a strategy of keeping quiet when provoked. The items that reached the set level of statistical significance concurred with both the features and general adjustment ability of a more stable sense of self-definition and the features of identity consciousness rooted in doubt and shame that counteracts and complicates a personal sense of autonomy. The research participant, who has obtained a higher level of identity, is thus more able to contain himself when provoked, while the less self-directed incarcerated utilises more aggressive precautions to deter prison victimisation (physical strength and endurance training) or opts for sleeping as an escape mechanism. No significant statistical correlation was established between participation in treatment programmes and the level of identity development of the research participants.
Recommendations for further research were formulated focusing on the plight of the incarcerated adolescent. It was concluded that the uniqueness and fluidity of responses during the critical developmental stage of adolescence needs to be appreciated. The chronological young and vulnerable developmental age of the incarcerated adolescent, his particular susceptibility to conform, together with his need to feel accepted and his general quest for behavioural directives, may render him in particular vulnerable to societal strain, institutional and interpersonal victimisation as well as subsequent devaluation of his identity.© University of Pretoria
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