Coping strategies and adjustment patterns among female inmates in a Nigerian prison.

Author:Otu, Smart E.

Prisons house the apprehended, prosecuted and convicted law violators. Wilfley, Rondon and Anderson (1986) assert that the prison milieu presents a range of challenges, including stressors such as feelings of isolation, loss of privacy, boredom, personal threats and overcrowded living conditions. In developing countries such as Nigeria, inmates are both physically and mentally deprived, leading to low self-esteem and psychological upheaval.

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.

Conceptual Clarification

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.

Theoretical Considerations

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...

To continue reading