Simon says: Self-regulation in a non-autonomous environment
Throop, Daniel S.
Simon Says: Self-Regulation in a
Daniel S. Throop
Carl Jung once stated that “Only that which is truly ourselves has the power to heal” (Richo 261). It is through such a Jungian-lens of self- correction that current models of state correctional systems should be evaluated. After all, how can an individual ever develop, let alone regulate, prosocial behaviors within an environment which is devoid of both the opportunity and autonomy necessary to do so? It would appear that contemporary state prisons are pursuing a self-defeating strategy whereby they are substituting artificial behavioral control for the healthier organic variety. According to Harvard sociologist Dr. Kaia Stern,
“The current US prison system generates staggeringly high rates of recidivism. Each year in the United States, an estimated 700,000 people return to their neighborhoods from prison, and within three years two- thirds of this group is re-incarcerated” (Stern 20).
Clearly, the widespread failure of state correctional systems, as evidenced by very high recidivism rates, to effectively correct behavior necessitates a paradigm shift on the subject. Considering the potentially negative long-term implications upon both public health and safety if panoptic models of correctional control (Foucault 200) are not replaced, research into whether positive self-regulation, on a restorative scale, is even possible within the prison context seems not only warranted but also socially necessary. It is the goal of this research to prove that incarceration perpetuates states of arrested development wherein behavioral maladaptations to a controlled environment are often misclassified as self-regulation, while true Jungian-styled self-efficacy and healing remain unrealized.
In testing the question of whether healthy se1f—regulation is achievable within a non-autonomous environment like state prison, both psychological and criminological theories must be engaged to adequately address the paradoxical interplay involved in such a query. On the psychological side of the fence, one must incorporate the dynamic self- concept (Markus & Wurf 1987 ) along with self-awareness theory and self- regulation (Duval & Wicklund 1972), and the criminological perspective must be understood through the all-seeing lens of the Panopticon as developed by Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault. These theories all serve to contrast the distinctive duality between true self-motivated behavioral change and the artificial maladaptive variety induced by an oppressive environment.
The dynamic self-concept “...interprets and organizes self-relevant actions and experiences, it has motivational consequences, providing the incentives, standards, plans, rules, and scripts for behavior, and it adjusts in response to challenges from the social environment” (Markus 8: Wurf
1987, p.299-300). The dynamic self-concept is foundational for this research as it establishes an internal and multi-faceted self entirely incongruent with the one-size-fits-all approach that state correctional systems take regarding behavioral modification. However, the self is malleable, and will “adjust in response to challenges from the social environment”, so an anti-social environment like prison can easily result in maladaptations and adjustments just to survive and endure. The reality is that conformity to state regulations and programming can often result in negative responses from one’s peer group, thereby further clouding the waters of autonomous decision-making.
Self—awareness theory (Duval & Wicklund 1972) guides this research by explaining the human capacity for positive growth and internal course correction in the pursuit of goals. It is defined as “The theory that aspects of the self — one’s attitudes, values, and goals — will be most likely to influence behavior when attention is focused on the self” (Greenberg p.168). Self—awareness theory requires some degree of introspective evaluation to initiate behavioral change, which is an important delineation to consider in the face of state directives so impersonal that they seem alien by comparison. After all, how can personal correction even be recommended by prison authorities who reduce people to, and identify people as, mere numbers?
Operating in conjunction with self-awareness theory is, of course, self- regulation. Self-regulation is “The process of guiding one’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior to reach desired goals” (Greenberg p.168).
Additionally, “Several component processes are involved in the process of self-regulation. These include goal setting, cognitive preparation for action (e.g. planning, rehearsal, strategy selection), and a cybernetic cycle of behavior, which includes monitoring, judgment, and self-evaluation”
(Markus & Wurf p.308). Within the prison milieu, the over-arching goal is to gain one’s release; therefore all of one’s behaviors become centered on this singular objective. In order to achieve this goal, men and women in prison often must compromise previously held values, which causes an unnatural mutation of self-regulation. Being told how to behave to secure the approval of an unfamiliar parole board is very different from deciding to seek personal change of one’s own volition.
The final theory illuminating this study is that of the Panopticon. The
Panopticon is an inherent feature of the prison environment, originally designed by criminologist Jeremy Bentham, which amounts to a diabolical form of weaponized surveillance and control intended to condition prisoners to artificially self-regulate their behaviors. French philosopher
Michel Foucault describes the purpose of Bentham’s Panopticon as “To induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action” (Foucault p.201 ). The panoptic tactic of behavioral regulation within the prison environment continues today, leaving no room for autonomous thinking or decision-making. If robotically going through the motions which will please the faceless eye-in-the-sky every day is one’s only goal, then it is no wonder that men and women exit prison grossly ill- equipped to function in a free community.
The original hypothesis which inspired the design of this proposed study is a simple one; are contemporary state correctional systems doing more harm than good in the service of public health and safety? If, for instance, the Massachusetts State Department of Corrections (MA-DOC) stated vision is “To effect positive behavioral change in order to eliminate: violence, victimization, and recidivism” (Spencer p.3), but it repeatedly fails to accomplish these tasks, then why is it failing? Is large-scale behavioral regulation even possible within the prison environment, or is autonomy the missing ingredient? These questions require further investigation.
All of the signs point to the fact that external correctional methods of forced control do not produce successful outcomes. Stern asserts that
“Any concept of our prison system as ‘correctional’ or ‘reformatory’ is challenged by the reality that our current system actively prepares people better for continued life in prison than for a life outside it” (Stern p.20).
It is the belief of this researcher that meaningful self-regulation must be internally motivated and cultivated by external support. The prison environment is simply not conducive to this type of growth. This study seeks to explore the unique relationship between self-regulation versus state regulation of the self and how these practices impact recidivism rates.
The research design of this study focuses on surveying 1,000 prisoners within Massachusetts Correctional Institute-Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk), a medium-security male prison which houses approximately 1,400 men. The
1,000 men participating in the survey will be randomly selected to ensure diversity amongst racial, religious, social, ethnic, cultural, educational, and criminal profiles. The survey will consist of five basic questions:
. What t pe of sentence are you serving‘ numbers, 2nd de ree life or
Y 9 8 :
1“ degree life without parole (LWOP)?
. Do you participate in prison programming? Why or why not?
. What are your goals?
. Have you ever been incarcerated before?
. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your social skills?
The data from these surveys would be reviewed and collated to detect patterns of commonality as they emerge in the areas of self-regulation, self-awareness, self-evaluation, motivation, and recidivism.
In an effort to avoid data contamination, the survey questions were not primed to elicit desired responses but were instead ambiguously worded and ordered. However, there is a method behind the madness, so to speak.
Question 1 asks about sentence structure to ascertain whether the subject’s release date is a motivating factor for program participation (as asked in Question 2). Question 1 also serves as an independent variable of sorts in that men serving LWOP sentences would seem to have no other incentive to pursue positive programming than the self-motivation to do so. This is an important distinction to make as many prison programs are heavily incentivized with earned good-time (subtractions from one’s sentence) and certificates of completion which present favorably to the parole board, which views program participation as evidence of change/ growth.
Question 3 relates directly to self-identification of goals as a means of measuring whether the subject identifies personal goals or obvious environmental ones like freedom. Goal setting being of primary importance to self-regulation, it would appear that responses to this question will prove very revealing in this regard. Question 4 is the dependent variable of this study in that it will definitively quantify recidivism in real-time as opposed to waiting for the subjects respective release dates and tracking it all after the fact. Even men serving LWOP sentences may have previously recidivated, so this method is actually more accurate because otherwise these men would be excluded from other samples which rely upon forward-tracking of recidivism. Finally, question 5 presents all subjects the opportunity to self-evaluate which is another primary component of self-awareness and self-regulation.
The limitations of this research design come primarily in the form of relying upon honest responses from a largely dishonest population. If questions seem too invasive, an incomplete sample could result as some men may refuse to participate. Also problematic is the issue of sample size itself, as 1,000 subjects may not be enough to prove out this research on a national level. Consequently, access to all fifty state prison systems, including female institutions, would be ideal in more effectively extrapolating this data across the national prison landscape.
Additional limitations to this research design are in accurately discerning between true self-regulation, which may occur in concert with environmentally-based versions at times, and the purely superficial form of maladaptive behaviors operating in the pursuit of incentivized goals.
The MA-DOC mission statement reads, “Promote public safety by managing offenders while providing care and appropriate programming in preparation for successful reentry into the community” (Spencer p.3).
It stands to reason that if the MA-DOC is relying upon “appropriate programming in preparation for successful reentry” and no such successful reentry is occurring, then the entire MA-DOC programming model must, in turn, be severely flawed. Instead of developing prosocial goals of their own, prisoners are forced to play a counterproductive game of Simon Says in order to gain their release from an anti-social environment which does more to stunt self-regulation than to facilitate it.
In sum, this exercise clearly suggests that self-awareness and self- regulation are incompatible with an environment which specializes in deindividuation and artificial panoptic controls. Self-regulation requires an internally-motivated and voluntary choice when it comes to modifying one’s own behavior, but the prison environment is involuntary by nature and, therefore, negates the ability to make true choices. The reality is that token compliance to avoid punitive sanctioning does not constitute self- regulation. Prison programming is pursued by most as nothing more than a means to an end and is in no way indicative of genuine behavioral change, which accounts for the embarrassingly high recidivism rates.
On a personal note, the completion of this exercise has allowed me to better understand my role in juxtaposition to the very flawed correctional machinery around me. I am more cognizant than ever of the fact that the dissonance I have been experiencing is a direct result of not being where I want to be in life. Consequently, I must continue to work on becoming the best possible version of myself as I move forward and pursue goals beyond the prison walls. I believe that Anwar El-Sadat said it best, when writing about change from within the walls of Cairo Central Prison, “He who cannot change the very fabric of his though will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress”.
Duval, S. & Wicklund, B. (1912). (as cited in Greenberg, Schmader, Arndt, &
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline & Punish. New York: Vintage Books.
Greenberg, Schmader, Arndt, & Landau. (2015). Social Psychology: The
Science of Everyday life. MacMillan Education: London,UK.
Jung, Carl. (as cited in Richo, D. 1999).
Markus, H. & Wurf, E. (1987). The Dynamic Self-Concept: A Social
Richo, D. (1999) Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power 8: Creativity of Your
Dark Side. Boston: Shambhala.
Spencer, L. (2013). Massachusetts Department of Correction: Strategic Plan
Stern, K. (2014). Voices from American Prisons: Faith, Education, and
Healing. New York: Rutledge.
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