Exploring the Path towards Reintegrating the Prisoner in Mainstream Society: A Review of Literature


Gabriela Alexandra C. Tayag
SLHS-Department of Social Sciences
Mapua Institute of Technology
Manila, Philippines

“My sentence is almost up. That’s why they transferred me to the Minimum” Kuya Oliver, a man in his late fifties, wearing a cap and an olive green Minimum Security shirt, shared with a smile and a glimmer in his eyes. He said he was a very good prisoner, never got into a fight with anyone inside for the whole seven years that he was in. He had a little fun here and there, running errands for the “bosses,” keeping his mouth shut about whatever it is that must not be said. And here he was, living out, awaiting release. He emphasized, “I didn’t have to pay anyone just to be transferred to the Minimum.” When asked why he was in prison, his facial expression did not change; he kept on smiling. It was as if he told his story hundreds of times that reliving those days of uncertainty no longer made him feel depressed. Kuya Oliver murdered his cousin after years of tolerating his (cousin’s) unjust vexation of his wife and his children. And then, he surrendered, confessed and accepted his punishment. And in a few months, he was looking at the possibility of being reunited with his family. The day of release is something that he never stopped hoping for. Kuya Oliver just freely gave us our first informal interview at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) while he was cleaning the office of the social worker whom we were waiting for (interview with an inmate).

Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?
– Mahatma Ghandi

A desirable life is one that is free. Now, if a person living in a free society sleeps in the rain, hungry, thirsty and unclothed; unloved, unwanted and uncared for, can we say that this person is free? If this person scrambles for a desirable life and upon doing so, violates society‘s laws, how do we suppose this person would pay for his violations? Is it not by giving up what little he has of the very thing that he desires – freedom?

Deviance and criminal behavior are considered threats to human security. These go beyond what is considered by society as ―acceptable‖ behavior and are often dealt with by society through punishment. Once a person ―hurts‖ or ―shames‖ society by violating its laws, it often means that this person has turned his or her back on free society or that free society would eventually turn its back on him or her. On the other hand, while ensuring the safety of the majority by locking away some of society‘s offenders, people tend to forget that these offenders are humans too. Being deemed as violators does not mean being less human than the rest of the population.

The Prisoner as an Individual 

How does an individual end up in jail? Are certain human beings ―born‖ with the propensity to become deviant, or even more, to become criminals? What are the factors that can cause human beings to commit criminal acts?
The idea of supporting criminals may be unacceptable to many. Prisons house individuals who are considered to be ―paying their debt‖ to society and yet the government allots a certain portion of the people‘s taxes to support them. This may be a view of a disenfranchised citizen, or maybe a victim of a criminal incident. On the other hand, a prisoner is someone who has his or her own capability to change and to influence change even within the bounds of prison walls given that certain treatments are able to explain and to target the causes of the deviation of his or her behavior from what is socially desirable. In a dissertation written by Saplala (2006), he was able to explain the relationship of certain social factors to the development of a criminal tendency. He examined the cases of thirty inmates from the New Bilibid Prisons who were in the death row or sentenced with reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. The nature of their punishment is indicative of the weight of the crime that they committed. It turned out that most of the respondents in this study experienced to a certain extent, some kind of abuse in the past, either physical or sexual, emotional or both. These experiences of abuse play a great role in the impairment of the cognitive processes of an individual, such as his or her conscience and the ability to understand how other people feel. There are changes that occur in one‘s belief system which at certain times may be manifested through hostility and aggression.
An individual may develop a narcissistic attitude or become egocentric as a defense mechanism against prolonged depressive feelings of powerlessness caused by past experiences of abuse. Some of the factors that heighten feelings of depression may be the lack or absence of communication among family members, and substance intoxication (e.g. drugs, alcohol). Without the support of family members or close friends, an individual fails in seeking acceptance and working his or her way towards building his or her identity. Substance intoxication, (Saplala, 2006), although not proven to be the cause of criminal behavior, creates a predisposition for the depressed individual to commit a crime.

For Sandoval (2004), who made a study on Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) in the Quezon City Detention Hall, youth offenders who have already been accustomed to criminal life have been largely influenced by their exposure to people who have deviant patterns. Among the other salient reasons why young people are driven to become offenders are: having significant family problems, significant problems in school, patterns of alcohol and drug use and exposure to delinquent peers. Most of the CICL surveyed have a negative self-image, a bad attitude towards family members, are less moralistic and manifest low intelligence. (Carlota in Sandoval, 2004).
The CICL are examples of individuals who have developed an identity in the criminal world. Running in and out of detention centers, these young people who are dependent on substance abuse, products of broken families or hostile family environments and victims of physical and verbal abuse, can be considered be considered as trainees to becoming hardened criminals. As proper behavior is learned, so is deviant behavior. In a matter of time, if not prevented, these CICL can become the adult prisoners of tomorrow as they are further trained in criminal culture.

Once behind bars, an individual is compelled to develop patterns of adaptation in order to survive psychologically. If in a free society, an individual is not emotionally secure and is suffering from depression, the enclosed structure of prisons may possibly reinforce deviant and violent behavior. (Saplala, 2006). How prisoners adapt to prison life is another question. Dhami, Ayton and Loewenstein (2007) examined prison adaptation using two approaches: the Indigenous Approach and the Importation Approach. In the viewpoint of the indigenous approach, an individual‘s response to imprisonment is primarily influenced by the fact that he or she is deprived of certain rights. For instance, the pain of being unable to seek social support because of isolation can cause the prisoner to at first dissociate from the prison environment and later on express this through instantaneous rebellious acts against other prisoners, and joining riots and gangs inside prison. In the viewpoint of the importation approach, a prisoner may adapt to prison life by ―importing‖ or recreating his or her pre-prison lifestyle inside prison. For instance, an individual who used to enjoy certain luxuries in pre-prison life may adhere to corruption inside prison in order to be able to enjoy the same luxuries he or she used to enjoy. Inside prison, an individual finds himself or herself in the process of ―prisonization,‖ taking in folkways, mores, customs and general culture of the penitentiary (Clemmer, 1940 in Dhami, et al., 2007)

Prison Environment

What are prisons for? In the race for development, societies strive hard to maintain social order and eliminate forces that place social order at a disadvantage. Prisons have become the physical manifestation of control where ―criminals,‖ who endanger the social safety are confined. Prisons are structures that ―fulfill society‘s demand for retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and reintegration,‖ (Stinchcomb, 1999, p. 47).
―An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,‖ goes an ancient saying. This is the old version of the criminal justice system. When someone committed a crime in ancient societies, there was no longer enough reason for society to sustain his or her life. Aside from the fact that criminals consumed economical resources, they were also considered dangerous and must be physically eliminated. However, as society evolved, humane practices in punishing an offender have also developed. Now, correctional institutions can be viewed as a means of retribution, a debt-payment for the criminals‘ crimes. If an individual murdered another individual, placing the murderer in prison for life would be the equivalent of vengeance for the family of the murdered individual.
Another purpose of prisons is deterrence, using prison as a means of inflicting fear. Prisons as a means of deterrence can have an effect not only on the person being imprisoned. They also have an effect on society as a whole. They serve as a warning to the public as to what will happen to them if they break the law. In this case, prisons serve as a tool for inhibiting criminal behavior.
Incapacitation is a very practical use of prisons. Once a person is inside, a dangerous individual is taken out from the streets. Though incarceration is generally a punishment for those who have been proven to have committed a crime, for those who are only suspected to have committed a crime and have not yet been sentenced, prisons serve as detention areas that prevent them from possibly inflicting danger to the public.
Prisons as centers for rehabilitation reflects great change in the perspective of society on criminals. To rehabilitate, in a more general sense, means to restore or to put back in good order. This means that prisons do not only serve as containment of offenders. They are also venues where individuals can change in order to become acceptable or desirable. Rehabilitation can come in the form of counselling, education and livelihood programs and similar activities.
Finally, prisons are also viewed as a training ground for reintegration in society. This means that, most especially for parolees, prisons can do as much as give inmates a kind of social support as that which they can find after release from prison. Reintegration programs include allowing them to live outside prison cells, to work with income and to have constant communication with family members and peers before they are released.
Have correctional institutions in the Philippines gone beyond the retributive, deterrent and incapacitating purposes of prison? As of May 2012, there are 69, 735 inmates in all of the prison institutions under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) (BJMP, 2012). Statistics from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NCSB) show that the congestion rate of prisons rose from 65% in 2007 to 76% in 2008. The recidivism rate has rapidly increased from 2006 to 2008. On a positive note, there is a high rate of increase in the number of prisoners participating in rehabilitation programs and in the amount that the government has been spending to improve prison conditions (NCSB, 2009).

Statistical data only show tangible factors that can contribute to a constructive understanding of prison situation in the Philippines. However, in a book that was written by Narag (2005), he vividly described how inmates of Quezon City Jail were able to recreate political structures from outside, within the bounds of prison walls. The persistent problems in Quezon City Jail are inadequate facilities, personnel, reform programs, slow dispensation of justice and deficient police work. Narag considers these as the root cause for the creation of alternative social structures inside jail. One example of these structures is the Panunungkulan System. This system gives authority to certain inmates to control the behavior of the other inmates and to ensure that they follow prison rules and regulations. However, the responsibility given to the ―empowered‖ inmates is compensated with certain privileges that in the end forge inequality among the prisoners.
One very important note on Narag‘s book is that Quezon City Jail exemplifies a replication of the social inequities that exist outside prison. When resources are lacking, some affluent inmates provide – food, potable water, toiletries and the like – and what follows is that the rest of the prisoners who benefit from their provisions become indebted to them. Power inside jail does not only prevail among inmates. Inmates have developed mechanisms by which they are able to overthrow wardens or correctional staff who do not give in to their requests. The strong political structures formed within the walls of Quezon City Jail create a picture of a very alarming reality that needs to be dissected and addressed appropriately.

Work and Education: Preparation for Life Outside Prison

―You can‘t do anything about them anymore!‖ This is a manifestation, according to Salah (1992), of the constant negativism of society towards prisoners. The increasing inmate population and the increasing rate of recidivism may be interpreted by governments as a wake-up call to build more prisons. On the contrary, statistical data also indicate greater problems in the socio-economic make-up of society.
The capitalist ideology is very much reflected in the way criminal justice system is managed. The way society punishes individuals by placing a price (fines, penalties) for every type of crime committed is a manifestation of the how the power of money widens the gap between the rich and the poor even in the justice system (Stinchcomb, 1999). When a certain portion of the population questions why the taxes need to be spent on people who violated the laws, society needs to think again. Is society not responsible for the fate of the individuals inside prison considering the growing inmate population?
For Salah (1992), prisoners are politically disenfranchised individuals. Yes, they committed a crime, and in the process of paying for their crimes, they also lost their voice. Other people decide for them, tell them what to do, tell them what not to do. As Salah puts it, prisons maintain the ―development of the underdevelopment of prisoners.‖ In order to counter this continual underdevelopment, prisoners need to climb up the education ladder (p.1). By taking correspondence courses in the United States, with the help of some scholarship grants from institutions like Pell Grants, prisoners can acquire distance education that can empower them and bring them from their cells to the field of action. Prisoners can be agents of change, not only among themselves, but also with the prison institution (Salah, 1992; Narag, 2005).
If prisons intend to transform being an instrument of rehabilitation and reintegration into reality, they should invest heavily on education and work programs. Although there is not enough evidence that show how education directly reduces recidivism and crime rate, it is considered a basic component in crime eradication policy (Kemp and Johnson, 2004). In the United States, there were approximately two million people behind bars in 2003. In 2008, Britain had the highest prison population in Europe (Clark and Dugdale, 2008). Most prison studies in the US and in Europe state that, majority of the prisoners have low literacy skills and belong to poverty-stricken populations. Incarcerating criminals may lower crime rates by simply reducing the criminals on the streets. However, putting these people in jail means new fatherless or motherless homes, fewer people in the labor force and fewer people paying taxes – collateral damage (Kemp and Johnson, 2004).

According to Reuss (1997), prison education is a process of empowerment. Acquiring new knowledge inside prison is largely a social process. The real goal of educating prisoners is to allow them to have a new life and identity. Educational attainment gives an individual the power to fight marginalization and social exclusion (Reuss, 1997; Travis, 2002; Salah, 1992).

In an article written by Wilson (2004), she built on the concept of prisoners‘ creation of a ―third space.‖ She explained this third space as the product of the learning process of inmates through education programs. Third space is a dimension that allows the prisoner to explore his or her individuality despite the lack of space and the uncertainty of time. When prisoners learn more how to read and write and to solve mathematical problems, their learning is not manifested only by their scores in tests. More importantly, they manifest learning by using these literacy tools in adapting to the environment inside. Educational programs serve as a means of enabling prisoners to have a sense of control over their own lives despite the fact that they are physically bound.
Reintegration of prisoners to the free society does not only require having a sense of control. It also requires having a certain amount of capital. Prisoners have been detached from a legitimate work environment upon entering prison or even before they entered prison. Many of these prisoners were involved in illegal ways of earning money (e.g. drug pushing, human trafficking) before they entered prison and in order to reintegrate them to society, they must be properly trained with the skills needed for them to cope with the demands of legal ways of earning (Bushway, 2003).

Prisoners are exposed to different types of work programs inside prison. The basic contribution of these to the prisoners is that these programs occupy their time. More essentially, these work programs serve as motivators in the sense that they give prisoners hope that they can establish new lives outside prison. But, how do former prisoners actually ―make ends meet‖ after release? Based on a series of case studies done by Harding, Wyse, Dobson and Morenoff (2011), many American ex-prisoners experience a considerable struggle to meet even their basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. With the help of state prisons, former inmates are given job placement assistance. However, considering the training of prisoners, which is generally composed of skills for blue collar or manufacturing jobs, they normally land in low-paying jobs. The greatest problem that ex-prisoners have is the lack of motivation to stay in that particular job. Many ex-prisoners experience extreme desperation because of very small earnings and this drives these individuals to adhere to illegal means of earning to be able to survive since illegal means provide greater financial support (Solomon, Johnson, Travis and McBride, 2004).

According to Harding, et al., among the success stories of ex-prisoners that they were able to document, the main reason for obtaining job stability is the existence of social support mostly coming from family members or romantic partners (2011). This is a clear indication that ex-prisoners‘ personal motivation to survive and to gain upward mobility in free society is relative to the kind of acceptance that free society is willing to give. For the true essence of reintegration to take place, motivating a prisoner to leave prison and supporting the ex-prisoner to sustain the motivation not to go back to prison are important roles that society would have to play.


The concepts and theories of Social Development give much emphasis on levelling the playing field for the marginalized and the socially excluded to be able to participate in development. Despite the fact that prisoners have been placed in enclosed facilities because of the offenses that they have caused to society and because society finds it necessary to revoke some of their privileges as citizens for the sake of the majority, they (prisoners) remain to be stakeholders and duty-bearers who possess entitlements. With their incarceration, there are economic costs that at the end of the day, society itself is burdened with. Empowering prisoners to become part of free society once again or at least to participate in the goals of free society even while they are inside prison, has potential effects on social development.
The data collected by the researcher in this review range from studies that aim to explain why prisoners are sent to jail, to studies that aim to help the prisoner become reintegrated to free society after incarceration. When an individual commits a crime, there are various social factors that influenced or changed his or her psychological make-up. Upon incarceration, an individual struggles within an environment that appears to be a replica of life outside prison. The walls and the bars represent power structures that either reinforce or repress the ability of the individual prisoner to assert his or her identity. Majority of the studies reviewed are geared towards helping the prisoner become an agency of change. However, though educational support may be available inside prison, studies show that social support plays the most important role in giving the individual a sustained motivation to pursue a new way of life.

Through this review, the researcher was able to find certain lacunae in prison research that she and her research colleague can fill. First, there are very few studies that concentrate on the psychological make-up of Filipino criminals. There may be a wide variety of texts that explain criminality; however, very few of these are validated in the Philippine context. Second, studies about the environment that prisoners live in, is an interest of many, especially the physical aspect of the environment (food supply, budget, amenities). The researcher may venture into studying the efforts of non-governmental organizations and foreign funding agencies that concentrate on improving the prison environment specifically in poor countries. Third, education and job programs are obviously ubiquitous in the United States considering the amount of literature about the topic. The researcher believes that this is where she can make the most contribution. In the Philippines, though these programs are available, there are no standard evaluation procedures that monitor the outcomes of the programs. There are no studies that indicate the presence of any job placement agencies in the Philippines that are dedicated to helping prisoners after they are released. There is close to zero information on how Filipinos survive financial and emotional struggles outside prison. Future research on this topic may focus on the unique characteristics and cultural values of Filipinos that serve as mechanisms for adaptation to the free environment. There are many other gaps to be filled despite the presence of so many reports on prison life. However, most of these other gaps can only be filled by trying to find information that people in power would struggle to hide.

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The official Research Journal of the MIT- School of Languages, Humanities, & Social Sciences
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