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An examination of the social structure of the women's unit, Oakalla Prison Farm Coutts, Dorothy Mae

Abstract

This is an examination of the social structure of a women's prison. The prison has five primary tasks: custody, internal order, self-maintenance, punishment and reformation. Verbal priority is given to reformation, but custody and internal order take precedence in actual practice. Matrons prefer to play their roles in different ways. Those who subscribe to a habit-forming philosophy of reformation prefer working on the morning shift. Their views and practices are in harmony with the requirements of custody. Those who subscribe to a basic-change philosophy prefer the more relaxed and permissive atmosphere of the afternoon shift. Their views and practices are frequently in conflict with the requirements of custody. And structural pressure tends to force these matrons to become more custodial over time. In exchange for obedience and conformity in some spheres the matrons agree not to tamper with the attitudes and values of the inmates. This bargain for compliance seems essential given the present social structure of the prison. The inmates suffer from the deprivation of liberty, goods and services, heterosexual relationships, autonomy, security and, at the Women's Unit, privacy. The addicts and "rounders" adopt cohesive modes of response to these deprivations. "Squealers", "hack lovers" and "part players" adopt alienative modes of response. The inmates differ by groups in their characteristic responses to official oppression. The younger addict groups rebel habitually, the older groups conform overtly but do not change their basic values.

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