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Institutional Aggression in The Context of Prisons

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Institutional Aggression in The Context of Prisons

When a person commits a crime and goes to prison, we ask where aggression stems from. Does aggression come from the person, and are they flourishing in the aggressive aspects of the prison system? Or does the prison instil a sense of aggression in a person, and is our system at fault here?

An institution is a place authority governs, having a set of strict guidelines those who attend it must adhere to. For instance, your school is an institution.

Two major theoretical stances that try to explain institutional aggression are the dispositional explanations and the situational explanations.

Dispositional explanations

An example of a dispositional explanation is the importation model.

The importation model

John Irwin and Donald Cressey developed the importation model in 1962, which was the most influential dispositional explanation.

The importation model: Prisons are not completely insulated from everyday life in the ‘real world’. After all, prisoners come from the real world, and they may bring a subculture of criminality that the inmates share.

  • Inmates are people who may potentially deal with situations using violence (primarily those with a history of violence), so, typically, they may continue to do this in prison.
  • This is due to risk factors before their entry to aggression:
    • Gang members tend to bring their behaviours into prison with them. They are typically exposed to aggression and have predetermined feuds with other gangs (resulting in instrumental violence, where violence is used as a premeditated tool).
    • Prisoners with issues with drug abuse and withdrawal symptoms may be more inclined to fall into aggressive behaviours.
  • Existing inmates use aggression to gain power, and new, intimidated inmates use aggression as a way of dealing with an unknown environment, ‘the convict subculture’.

Simply put, inmates, who are predisposed to using violence, are more likely to do so in any setting. Therefore, aggression is the product of the inmates’ personalities and not the prison environment. It is an internal factor determined by individual internal characteristics.

Institutional Aggression in The Context of Prisons Importation model StudySmarterBehaviour is imported from the outside world, YB - StudySmarter Originals

Research into the importation model

Consider the following studies:

  1. DeLisi et al. (2004): This study investigated the importation model through persons involved in gangs (those at risk for prison misconduct, as we mentioned above).

    Using negative binomial regression models, researchers analysed 831 males from the southwestern USA for their prison violence (using records of their involvement in street gangs, prison gangs, and both types of gangs).

    They found that gangs associations were significantly predictive of prison violence only in the full model when considering various types of gang membership. However, the effects of membership were lower than other risk factors (such as chronic offending and history of violence. Overall, the study suggested that the importation model was not truly conclusive and needed further investigation, with control for outside variables (such as a history of offences and race).

  2. Delisi (2011): In this study, Delisi analysed the data of 2,520 institutionalised male delinquents and found that family backgrounds (using negative binomial regression models) variables were predictive of delinquent careers. Those who had issues with living in care and a history of violence with family members then went on to be violent towards prison inmates and staff (if they were incarcerated).

    Institutional misconduct indicated that proximal delinquent career variables were more associated with misconduct than family background factors.

    Overall, these childhood and adolescent experiences result in dispositional factors (individual characteristics influencing behaviour), supporting the idea that prison itself is not the cause of aggression (life course importation model).

Evaluation of the importation model

The importation model comes with its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s examine them now.

Strengths

Research support: Camp and Gaes (2005) studied 561 inmates with similar criminal histories and predispositions to aggression. They placed half of them in low-security Californian prisons and half in high-security ones.

They found that 33% of prisoners in the low-security prisons were involved in aggressive misconduct, as was the 36% in the high-security ones. This result was not statistically significant. The researchers concluded that the environmental features of prisons were significantly less important predictions of aggressive behaviour than characteristics of inmates.

Is this good evidence? Yes, it is because it’s a field experiment with random allocations of inmates to different prisons. This allows more valid conclusions than correlational studies or natural experiments.

Weaknesses

An alternative explanation: Diulio (1991) claimed that the importation model fails to consider the impact of prison wardens and the running of prisons. He suggested an alternative control model (ACM), which states that poorly managed prisons are more likely to experience the worst forms of inmate violence.

Harer and Steffensmeier (1996): In this study, they looked at the data of 58 male prisons in America. They found that violent behaviour tended to be higher in black inmates and drug offences higher in white inmates. They suggested that variables such as race and age were associated with or had influence over levels of aggression, and it supported the importation model. However, they only considered male inmates; therefore, the study has issues with being androcentric.

Situational explanations

An example of a situational explanation of aggression in prisons is the deprivation model.

The deprivation model

Sykes had a different idea in 1958.

Sykes (1958) argued that he found the causes of institutional aggression in the environment of prisons (this makes it a situational explanation). He said prison conditions were stressful for inmates and hard to cope with. Conditions such as being deprived of freedom, independence, goods, safety and heterosexual intimacy were considered pains of imprisonment’.

Deprivation of material goods increases competition between inmates to acquire them, leading to aggression. It is criminogenic.

Clemmer (1958) suggested this is a principle of the inmate social code, which idealises an inmate’s ‘perfect behaviour’.

The nature of prisons also leads to aggression. ‘Lock ups’ are often used to control behaviour, which creates frustration, reduces stimulation from other activities (i.e., distractions), reduces even further access to material goods.

This is a recipe for violence.

  • Simply put, prisons’ stressful, competition-led nature leads inmates to react with aggression. It is an external factor.

Evaluation of the deprivation model

Consider the following:

  1. Bloomberg and Lucken (2000): In this study, they investigated the deprivation of prisoners freedom, i.e., their liberty. They suggested this was one of the primary forms of punishment in the sense that, inherently, the prison has to deprive those of their complete set of liberties to an extent, and this is a significant factor of the deprivation model.

Strengths

  • Research support: Steiner (2009) investigated the factors that predicted inmate aggression in 512 prisons in the USA. He found that environmental factors reliably predicted aggressive behaviour in line with the deprivation model. Violence increased in prisons with higher proportions of female staff, African-American inmates, Hispanic inmates, and inmates in protective custody for their own safety.

  • Cunningham et al. (2010) analysed 35 inmate homicides in Texas prisons and found they were often motivated by the deprivations. Arguments over drugs, homosexual relationships and personal possessions were significant. This evidence supports the validity of the deprivation model.

Weaknesses

  • Contradictory evidence - Hensley et al. (2002) studied 256 male and female inmates in two prisons in Mississippi. These were prisons that allowed conjugal visits. They found no link between these visits being allowed and reduced aggressive behaviour. This finding suggests that situational factors do not affect prison violence.

Interactionist model

Could we use both models together?

Jiang and Fisher Giorlando (2002) suggest that the importation model better explains violence between inmates, and the deprivation model is more effective in understanding innate aggression against prison staff.

Dobbs and Courtney Waid (2004) support an interactionist model. They argue that inmates will suffer deprivation when entering prison for the first time. Still, deprivation doesn’t necessarily lead to violence unless it combines specific individual characteristics imported into the prison.

Institutional Aggression in The Context of Prisons - Key takeaways

  • Institutional aggression refers to aggressive or violent behaviour within the social context of a prison or other formal, organised settings.

  • Dispositional explanations explain behaviour that highlights the importance of the individual’s personality.

  • Situational explanations identify the causes of behaviour as existing within the environment, including other people.

  • The Importation Model states that if a convict is aggressive outside of prison, they will continue to be inside, as prison is a microcosm of the outside world.

  • The Deprivation Model states that aggression in institutions results from the deprived nature of life in prison.

  • The Interactionist Model uses both theories to explain aggression in institutions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Institutional Aggression in The Context of Prisons

Deprivation, particularly a lack of material goods, leads to competition between inmates. When resources are scarce, we often have to fight to get them. Inmates use aggression to take resources from other inmates or stop them from being stolen.

The importation model argues that prisoners are people who are used to solving problems with violence in the outside world. It is only logical that they continue to do this in the prison context. This is a dispositional factor (individual characteristics influence behaviour).

The deprivation model argues that the prison environment is one in which inmates lack things they are used to having. Prison conditions include being deprived of freedom, independence, goods, safety, and heterosexual intimacy. Deprivation of material goods increases competition between inmates to acquire them, leading to aggression.

Aggressive or violent behaviour within the social context of formally organised settings.

The importation model states that isolation from the real world and normalisation of aggressive behaviour causes aggression in prisons. Alternatively, the deprivation model states that as prison is a stressful environment where inmates are deprived of freedom, food and other things, they must compete for these, leading to aggression.

Final Institutional Aggression in The Context of Prisons Quiz

Question

What is institutional aggression?

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Answer

Aggressive or violent behaviour within the social context of formally organised settings.

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Question

What is the most influential dispositional explanation?

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Answer

The importation model.

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What are dispositional explanations?

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Answer

Any explanation of behaviour that highlights the importance of the individual’s personality.

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What is the term for using aggression to gain power in prisons?

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Answer

The criminal subculture.

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Question

The importation model showed that…


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Answer

Aggression is the product of the inmates’ personalities and not the prison environment.

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Question

Who researched 813 juvenile delinquents in 2011?

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Answer

Delisi

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What did Delisi’s research find?

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Answer

The study found that inmates with certain negative features, compared to a control group who didn’t have these negative features, were more likely to engage in suicidal activity, sexual misconduct, and commit acts of violence.

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What is a situational explanation?

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Answer

A situational explanation identifies the causes of behaviour as existing within the environment, including other people.

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What did Sykes call his 1958 model, which is an example of a situational explanation?


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Answer

The deprivation model.

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Question

Put simply, what is the deprivation model?

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Answer

The deprivation model essentially argues that prisons' stressful, competition-led nature leads inmates to react with aggression.

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Question

Camp and Gaes (2005) measured the behaviour of inmates in high-security prisons compared to those in low-security prisons. They found no significant difference between their tendencies to engage in violent behaviour. Does this finding support the importation model or not, and why?

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Answer

This finding supports the importation model because it shows that the inmates’ characters, not their environment, cause them to engage in violent or aggressive behaviour.

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Question

Steiner (2009) measured the effects of prisons on inmate behaviours in 512 prisons. He found increased violence in prisons with ____.

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Answer

Male staff.

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How does Cunningham et al. (2013) study support the deprivation model?

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Answer

The study analysed 35 inmate homicides in Texas prison and found deprivation often motivated them. Arguments over drugs, homosexual relationships, and personal possessions were particularly important.

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Question

True or false: The Christopher Hensley et al. (2002) study showed inmate aggression went down when they were allowed conjugal visits.

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Answer

False. They found there was no change in aggressive behaviour.

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Question

How do Jiang and Fisher Giorlando (2002) use both models together?

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Answer

They suggest that the importation model is a better explanation for violence between inmates, and the deprivation model is more effective in understanding innate aggression against prison staff.

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Question

How do Dobbs and Courtney Waid (2004) support an interactionist model?

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Answer

They argue that inmates will suffer deprivation when entering a prison for the first time, but deprivation doesn’t necessarily lead to violence unless it combines with certain individual characteristics that are imported into the prison.

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Question

What does the deprivation method aim to explain?

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Answer

Aggression within prisons.

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Who developed the deprivation model?

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Answer

Gresham Sykes.

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What type of factors does Sykes suggest explains aggression?

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Answer

Situational.

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Question

How many ‘pains of imprisonment’ does Sykes mention?

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Answer

Five.

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What are the five deprivations/pains of imprisonment?

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Answer

Autonomy, liberty, heterosexual intimacy, goods/services and security.

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Question

What is an example of deprivation causing aggression?

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Answer

An inmate who usually is independent on the outside has difficulty adjusting to the structure of his days in prison, causing him to feel frustrated and making him more likely to act aggressively.

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Question

What is an example of a study supporting the deprivation model?

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Answer

A 2009 study by Benjamin Steiner investigated the deprivation model. The study found that inmate-on-inmate aggression increased when there were more female staff on shift and overcrowding, supporting the idea that situational factors increase aggression.

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Question

What is an example of a study refuting the deprivation model?

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Answer

A study by Hensley et al. in 2002 found that when prisoners were allowed conjugal visits to still have intimacy with their partners, this did not affect levels of aggression.

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Question

What is the interactionist model?

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Answer

The interactionist model combines the approaches of both the deprivation model and importation model, rather than viewing them as competing ideas. This model suggests that a combination of dispositional (personality) and situational factors contribute to whether someone acts aggressively.

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What is deprivation of liberty?

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Answer

It refers to how inmates lose many personal freedoms when imprisoned, such as choosing when to eat, bathe, sleep, and wake up.

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What is deprivation of autonomy?

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It refers to how prisoners are given scarce choices in their day-to-day life and are controlled almost completely by prison staff, leading to feelings of helplessness.

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What is deprivation of goods and services?

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It refers to how inmates cannot access many of the goods and services they would enjoy in the outside world, such as their favourite food or smoking.

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What is deprivation of heterosexual intimacy?

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It refers to how heterosexual inmates mostly cannot continue or begin relationships or experience intimacy with their preferred gendered partner, leading to feelings of low self-worth, especially in male inmates.

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What is deprivation of security?

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It refers to how inmates may feel unsafe or that their safety is threatened whilst in prison.

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How do deprivations affect aggression?

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Answer

Sykes states these deprivations lead to many negative feelings, such as helplessness and low-self worth, which can, in turn, lead to aggression.

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Who established the importation model?

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Answer

Irwin and Cressey (1962)

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Question

Define dispositional explanations.

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Answer

Dispositional explanations assign personal attribution to actions or behaviours, suggesting they are a result or cause of feelings, judgements, traits, behaviours, social upbringing and associations, and so on and so forth. It focuses on the internal, psychological reasoning behind these behaviours, personal and specific to the individual.  

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What is the countermodel to the importation model?

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Answer

The deprivation model, also known as the situational explanation. 

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Question

What is the importation model?

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Answer

It is the idea that prisoners 'import' their behaviours and personality traits from outside of the prison, into the prison, and will continue to perpetuate these behaviours once 'inside'. It attempts to explain aggressive behaviours in institutions through this idea.  

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Question

What is the difference between the importation model and the deprivation model?

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Answer

The deprivation model argues that the deprivations in an institution (loss of autonomy, liberty, luxuries etc.) cause aggression, alongside other factors such as staff behaviours and environmental factors, whereas the importation model argues the causes of aggression lie in the dispositions of the individuals themselves; they import them into the institution with them from their previous backgrounds when they enter.  

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Question

What are some risk factors in the importation model?

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Answer

  • Norms in criminal circles (such as drug dealing, theft, assault and physical violence)
  • Anti-social behaviours
  • Aggressive beliefs
  • Gang behaviours/associations

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Question

What did Mills et al. (1998) find in their study on alcohol abuse and violent offenders?

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Answer

They found that offenders who had issues with alcohol abuse, specifically if they depended quite highly on alcohol, were more likely to be and were more involved in serious incidents compared to the controls. 


Those who depended on alcohol had a higher level of aggression. 


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What did DeLisi et al. (2004) find in their study on gang members and prison violence?

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Answer

They found that the overall effect of gang membership was lower than first anticipated, and when compared to other risk factors, such as chronic offending, violent history and previous incarcerations, gang membership effects were in fact smaller. 


Gang members are not more violent than other prisoners, which does not support the idea put forwards by the importation model. 

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What did Kane and Janus (1981) find in their study on demographical backgrounds and aggression in institutions?

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Answer

Past dependence on drugs (such as opiates), long periods of unemployment, and less education would increase the chances of violence occurring during incarceration. 


Similarly, in terms of race and age, non-white and younger inmates were more likely to be violent


According to Kane and Janus (1981), this may be due to a lack of support systems in the aforementioned populations compared to others, and how the subculture within non-white and younger inmates may encourage violent solutions. 

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What are some issues with the research that supports/opposes the importation model?

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Answer

Issues with such research lie in them being androcentric. They focus on male prisoners, which reduces the generalisability both to the population and female prisoners. 


Some argue that the model is too simplistic and ignores other, important factors that may incite aggression. 

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Question

What are the five pains of imprisonment, according to Sykes?

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Answer

  • The loss of autonomy

  • The loss of liberty

  • The loss of security

  • The loss of heterosexual relationships

  • The loss of luxuries (services and goods)

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Question

What did Megargee (1997) find in their study on the deprivation model?

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Answer

Over a 3-year period, they found that crowding in prisons was correlated with disruptive behaviours.  

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What is an example of the importation model in action?

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Answer

A person who associates with people who deal drugs or commit crimes may continue to perpetuate these behaviours once they have entered prison, as they are used to this and may even seek out like-minded individuals.  

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What self-report measure did Mills et al. (1998) use to identify dependency habits in violent offenders?

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Answer

A self-report measure of alcohol abuse (ADS, alcohol dependence scale).

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How many participants were involved in the study by DeLisi et al. (2004) on gang associations and violence in prison?

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Answer

831 male inmate samples from Southwestern USA. 

Show question

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