>Users:   login   |  register       > email     > people    

Youth inmate subculture
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 08/25/2008

Tracy Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures. In his monthly column, he discusses everyday issues affecting corrections professionals.

Youthful inmates with exposure to violence in the home or community are generally more aggressive and violent toward your authority. Domestic violence is a strong risk factor and can become the youth’s model for problem solving.

Violent role models are great indicators of how youth will evolve and mature. Pay attention to those the inmate idolizes, such as other gang members, or to those who have a fascination with violent behavior.

Family history of criminal behavior, such as fathers, brothers, cousins, may predict future activity of the youth. If the youth grows up around individuals who hate law enforcement or authority figures they will take on that persona. Criminals are generally unable to teach their children right from wrong.

An incarcerated parent can be a risk factor if that parent sends the message that criminal behavior is OK. A lot of these violent youth have terminal thinking as they often see themselves not living beyond 20.

In their mind, life is short, and since they have nothing to live for, why not resort to violence to rectify their sense of societal injustice? Antisocial behavior can be generally characterized as an overall lack of adherence to the social norms and standards that allow members of a society to coexist peaceably.

Individuals with antisocial behavior disorders are responsible for about half of all crimes committed, though they make up only about five percent of the population. However, within our institutions, undiagnosed mental illness is far greater than on the streets.

Antisocial behavior can start out in childhood, adolescence or adulthood. In children it is referred to as a “Conduct Disorder”, in adults as “Antisocial Personality Disorder”.

Conduct disorders developed early in life, prior to puberty, are more likely to continue into adulthood and also more likely to be violent and aggressive. Antisocial behavior as seen in youth is a growing concern within our prisons.

Escalating violence in institutions is an outward manifestation of antisocial behavior. Conduct disorders are often passed down within the family. There also seem to be other common factors that address the violent demeanors of youth in prisons.

Youth with conduct disorders are often victims of abuse or have been exposed to aversive or punitive environments. Parenting was often inconsistent, swinging from excessive leniency to excessive punishment.

So how do you motivate and address this violent youth inmate preventing aggression and attack? You communicate respectfully and tactfully.

Respect and tact is listening without interrupting. Aggressive youth will communicate with excessive volume, and with their belief that they know more than you do. Allow them to expel their verbal tirade and tactically read between the lines to what they truly want. Youth may not be good communicators due to their age and past violent experiences so they may need your communication expertise to bring about their true intentions.

Watch your facial expressions. You may be listening, but a smirk, smile or lack of eye contact represents disrespect in the eyes of the inmate.

Respect and tact also taking feelings into consideration. Understanding the criminal, violent and incarcerated youth mindset is essential, so look for extreme egomania; selfishness and me-based orientation; poor impulse control with manipulative behavior and constant performances such as tantrums; aggression or intimidation that benefits them; and an inability to accurately read your emotions with little or no ability to delay their gratification.

Your value is defined by what you can do for them. Inmates having these high risk factors and showing these behaviors should be evaluated, and handled carefully and cautiously.

It is important to keep an open mind. Before you can excel at your profession, you must apply a clear understanding as to why the incarcerated become aggressive and non-compliant.

By understanding the cliental you walk among you will anticipate and understand violent outbursts. Some reasons why inmates become aggressive include fatigue or sleep deprivation; sensory overload – too much noise or activity; being asked to respond to several questions or statements at once; being scolded, confronted or contradicted in a public setting; unclear or complicated instructions; routine change; lack of respect; exposure to violence; and mental illness or mood disorders.

Respect and tact also is making sure to give each other space. This behavior reduces one’s sense of a basic instinct and allows the inmate to escape the mayhem of prison life. If you are too close you may be unknowingly intimidating and aggravating the youth.

Ultimately, when communicating with an aggressive youth it is important to recognize that all they may know about handling a problem is through violence. In discerning this you can anticipate their intentions, maintain a tactically ready posture, and remain professional during the encounter.

When you inmate respect and take time to actually communicate, you will avoid most attacks and bring about less violence. Tell the truth when de-escalating, and don’t lie, as they will know what you can and can’t actually do for them.

Stay safe and tactically sound during your encounter, since some situations may not be verbally de-escalated. Knowing when to stop communicating and to take action is an art in itself. Other articles by Barnhart:

The mob mentality Understanding, anticipating and controlling fear


No comments have been posted for this article.

Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   


Forgot password?

correctsource logo

Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2024 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015