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What Are Common Stereotypes of People in Jail?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Common stereotypes of people in jail include the assumption that they are all untrustworthy losers with violent tendencies. The truth is that while many murderers, rapists, gangsters and armed robbers may tend to commit acts of violence even in jail, there are also prisoners serving time for non-violent crimes such as tax evasion or drug-related offenses. Also, some prisoners don't have remorse or want to change their ways, but there are others who feel differently about what they did. Some people have even been found to be falsely incarcerated when someone else was later proven to be the real perpetrator. In the case of any type of assumption, there are and will always be people who fit it, but also many more who do not.

Getting the particulars and facts of the case before trying to assess a prisoner is crucial to avoid stereotyping. If we ourselves keep in mind how hurtful and upsetting it can feel when others judge us without knowing the facts about our specific situation, it often becomes much easier to look beyond common stereotypes of people in jail. For instance, when we consider the facts of someone in prison who claims to be innocent of his or her crimes, it becomes less of a knee jerk reaction to automatically assume that, in reality, this person is guilty. Critical thinking, rather than solely an emotional response, can help us reach a sensible conclusion about a prisoner's, or any other person's, guilt or innocence in a particular matter.

That incarcerated people only learn more bad things and become even worse citizens when they are released from jail is another common stereotype. While this can definitely be true for some prisoners, it's not the case for others. Some people in jail take responsibility for whatever crime they committed that got them incarcerated and work hard through prison counseling and/or education programs to make changes for the better. While some convicts never feel genuine remorse for their victims, others do and even go as far as to apologize to their victim's families. Caution and critical thinking must always be used before dispelling or believing a stereotype though because it sometimes a prisoner could fake remorse.

That all men are raped by other men in prison is one of the most often mentioned stereotypes. For men who have perpetrated this behavior outside the jail system, this may be a reality. Since prison life is typically very different from that on the outside, this form of violence may likely occur more often for people in jail. It is also possible for sexual violence to happen between females in prison rather than just males. Yet not all prisoners, male or female, will experience any violent sex in jail, and some may choose to engage in consensual same-sex relationships with fellow inmates.

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Discussion Comments

By Reminiscence — On Jan 28, 2014

I suppose the way someone acts in jail depends on the way they already act on the outside. Being put behind bars doesn't necessarily change someone's personality, except maybe to make them angrier or more depressed.

By Cageybird — On Jan 27, 2014

I had a friend who spent five years in a state prison for burglary, and I think he actually became a better person after he got out. He told me that the first few months were the toughest, because the other inmates were trying to shake him up and figure out what kind of guy he was. After a while, he figured out how the prison system worked and found the right kind of people to be around.

He told me they spent most of their time playing card games or watching whatever was on the TV in the day room. He said it was nothing like you see in a crime show, but every once in a while somebody would get violent with a guard or push other inmates around. The rest of the inmates mostly wanted to get through their work day, play some cards and go to bed.

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