What is an Inmate System?


Inmate System

Inmates in jails use certain processes of mortification to preserve their civilian selves because of various barriers placed by the jail establishment. Prisoners develop a set of norms and procedures for controlling conduct within their organisation. Their directives make up prisoners’ code, or inmate code, or inmate system.

Some examples of the inmate code are: always cooperate with other inmates, don’t criticise or argue or quarrel with other inmates, don’t interfere with the interests of other inmates, don’t exploit other inmates, always share eatables with other inmates, don’t have any confidence in officials, don’t reveal secrets to officials, do least work, always express dissatisfaction with the food, clothes, etc. given in prison, and so forth.


The inmate code serves four main functions: (i) it maintains cohesion among inmates; (ii) it creates self-confidence in inmates; (iii) it enables inmates to face jail officials; and (iv) it lessens the problems of imprisonment.

The process of internalising the inmate code has been termed as the process of enculturation or the process of fraternalisation. This is the process through which socially distant persons find themselves developing mutual support and common counter-moves in opposition to a system that has forced them into a single and equalitarian community.

The process of socialisation in correctional institutions has been studied by several western scholars like Donald Clemmer (1940), Gresham Sykes (1958), Peter Garabedian (1963), Wellord (1967), and Stanton Wheeler (1969), etc.

Donald Clemmer has studied causes of inmate system in prison, nature of adjustment in prison community, and corrupting effects of a penal institution. Gresham Sykes has discussed major deprivations experienced by prisoners and cause of social code of inmates.


He has claimed that inmates develop their own social code in direct response to these deprivations, i.e., to reassert their autonomy, to control their reactions against opposition to the staff and the values upheld by the institution, and to develop loyalty to each other. Stanton Wheeler has studied socialisation in correctional institutions, prison culture, and role conflict in correctional communities.

He has concluded that the nature of prison culture varies from prison to prison; that prisons are dominated by criminal elements among prisoners; prison culture cannot be explained simply in terms of response to deprivations that imprisonment brings; structure of society from which prisoners come also affects the cohesion and values of inmate society; and some prisoners adopt themselves superficially and temporarily to the standards of the prison subculture while others absorb prison subculture permanently.

Peter Garabedian studied social roles and processes of socialisation in the prison community. He has analysed the patterns of individual involvemen1 during sentence with the values of prison staff on the one hand and of the prison subculture on the other. Wellord has studied the normative socialisation of inmates in prison, i.e., factors associated with adoption of the inmate code.

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