Stanford Prison Experiment and American Prison System Overview

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Conrad Black once said, “All emphasis in American prisons is on punishment, retribution, and disparagement, and almost none is on rehabilitation.” Although the United States prison system was established to demonstrate equality and justice, in the last decade it seems to be demonstrating something else (Kilgore, 2015). As in March of 2018, 10.6 million people each year enter the prison systems of the United States (Wagner, & Sawyer, 2018). The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, matter of fact the United States contains twenty-five percent of the world’s incarcerated people and over the last thirty years this number has increased by 300 percent (Valletta, 2018).

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Which brings up the issue of determining if the U.S. prison system is really beneficial or is it just a modern-day version of slavery. Some prisons rehabilitation has disappeared from the system; mass incarceration is a big dilemma (Jefferson, 2017). This all comes down to the criminal justice system, and if the United States is showing equality or is it just leaning more toward locking up minorities?

Some prisons have completely eradicated the concept of rehabilitation. One great demonstration of this poorly rehabilitation resources is the Stanford Prison Experiment. The Stanford Prison Experiment was an experiment where researchers study the psychology of prison system (Stanford Prison Experiment, 2018). The prisoners are completely stripped from their identities and they are humiliated to the maximum by the “correctional officers”, which also known as the other volunteers (Stanford Prison Experiment, 2018). The correctional officers had them do chores and make sure they were using manners; however, if one of the prisoner would not listen the would punish them like kids and put them in a closet known as, “The Hole.” “The hole” is known as a form of solitary confinement. If you break one of the correctional officers “rules” or claimed to, you would be placed in this hole (Bennett, 2016). This poor treatment leads to a not so great turnout for some prisoners.

Such as they would be stripped of their food privileges, put in ‘the hole’, or their bed frames, (sometimes their pillows and blankets as well) would be taken away. This punishment had such bad look on people that some say it can also be known as torture (Solitary Confinement, 2018). Instead of helping the prisoners become better people they become more vulnerable and uncharitable people. So, the researchers involved in this experiment had to end it prematurely because the intended purpose for the experiment was no longer occurring (Stanford Prison Experiment, 2018). Instead the experiment new purpose was turning into how authority changing the identity of individuals and how they treat the prisoners. The ‘correctional officers’ started to act as if the entire experiment was real, and it started to change them, as if they were in a real prison (Stanford Prison Experiment, 2018). Their conclusion, said by Haslam (researchers in the experiment), “when placed in toxic situations, good people will inevitably turn bad”.

Solitary confinement is defined as a state of being kept isolated in a prison cell away from all or other prisoners (Solitary Confinement, 2018). Solitary confinement as looked upon as something that causes instability and violence in inmates. Not only this, but solitary confinement is considered by international law to be torture. Yet, the United States breaks every international standard about solitary confinement (Goode, 2015). As previously stated, when a good person or sane individual is placed in a toxic environment, they eventually turn bad. Solitary confinement seems to do this to many prisons in the United States Prisons (Solitary Confinement, 2018). Not only are the prison systems averting from idea of rehabilitation but they are making the “hole” an escape route to deal with prisoners. This isolation is starting to prove to cause harmful, long-lasting effects (Goode, 2015). Many prisoners struggle to keep their sanity and a majority of them, do not succeed. An example be one prisoner, in the Pelican Bay State Prison, said “If you put a parakeet in a cage for years and you take it out, it will die, So I stay in my cage,” (Goode, 2015.) Solitary confinement precisely has shown in this prisoner, this simple isolation has gone a lot deeper than just changing the way someone thinks.

The stripping of the identities and individuality all occurs in the United States Prison, and however the United States is fixated that the solitary confinement does no harm to its prisoners and they continue on with their policy. The United States has averted from disciplining people for the crime that they did and helping them correct this morality (Goode, 2015). Alternatively, they just started placing people in jail with no regard to corrections.

is leading for mass incarceration to become an era of mass recidivism (Kilgore., 2015). Mass recidivism is the act of people that were already admitted into the prison system return after a year or so. Recidivism is started to become known as the “revolving door,” which proves that prisons are not teaching what they were put in place to teach, teach them to become better people and to commit crimes once again (Gelb, & Velazquez, 2018). Because of their treatment, the prisoners never learn how to better themselves; instead, they learn to keep to the old ways in order to stay sane or to survive the harsh conditions of being incarcerated, (Schanzenbach, Nunn, Bauer, Breitwieser, Mumford, & Nantz, 2016). With proper rehabilitation and the development of proper skills and values determines the outlook of their home and our economy. Correspondingly, the data of of reentry of past prisoners is, “56 percent of those formerly incarcerated with ten or more prior arrests were arrested again,” (Schanzenbach, Nunn, Bauer, Breitwieser, Mumford, & Nantz, 2016). Stating, how likely someone that was currently submitted into the prison system ends up reentering in a year.

To conclude, rehabilitation has become extinct and punishment has become the new go to. This transformation in the prison system allows the correctional officers to take everything the prisoners know and love in just a quick period of time. From this, the prisoners demonstrate a slim to no learning of way to better themselves and survive in the real world after they are released. Instead these prisoners learn to survive in the system without losing their mind and themselves. However, because of the lack of rehabilitation it creates a statistics of a growing reentry of past prisoners. Developing the question, is the United States prison system benefitting the prisoners, in the way it was meant to man years ago? 

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Stanford Prison Experiment and American Prison System Overview. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved from