A study conducted in the early 70’s known as the Stanford Prison Experiment should be used as a guideline for developing and enforcing ethical behavior for employees in a prison setting. I first learned about the Stanford prison experiment as graduate level psychology student while at the same time working in a prison. Now that I no longer work in a correctional environment I have been able to reflect on my time working there and the Stanford prison experiment is a relevant tool for my reflection.
For those who are unfamiliar with the experiment I will give a brief overview. The Stanford prison experiment involved to groups of volunteers, one group role-played as inmates and another group role-played as prison staff. The experiment took place in a mock prison that was located in the basement of the Stanford psychology department building. The experiment was initially set to last for two weeks, but only lasted for six days. The people who role-played the inmates were to remain in the mock prison for the 24-hours a day for the entire period of the study. It was found during the study that prison staff participants became abusive to the inmate participants. It is was also found that the inmate participants were exhibiting signs of dangerous levels of stress and anxiety, which is why the experiment only lasted six days.
Looking back at my time with the correctional facility I worked at I found that staff and the people incarcerated exhibit both sides of the Stanford prison experiment. Many staff members abused their power over the inmates in such inhumane ways that I would be hesitant to describe them here but I will say that the abuses that occurred in the actual prison I worked in were much worse than the ones that occurred in the experiment. My question or issue occurs with the reality that the Stanford experiment only lasted six days, I worked in a prison environment for seven years, and others that worked there had worked in that environment from anywhere from 10 to 20 plus years. With the knowledge of the Stanford prison experiment I think we should reexamine the mental status of prison employees. One way this can be done is through an implicit bias test to help determine the attitudes of the prison staff, I would argue that an extreme bias against people in prison would possibly indicate that a person may be abusing his or her power in that environment. Although I know that this is just a minor solution but given the information from the experiment it would be reasonable to assume that a small percentage of people who work in prison environments for multiple years might be abusive and may need help in terms of mental health therapy.