Good Example Of Examining Criminal Situations At The Pelican Bay State Prison Using Social Process And Social Development Theory Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Prison, Gang, Crime, Sociology, Development, Criminal Justice, Pelican, Violence

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2020/12/13

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The Social Process and Social Development Theory is a theory that attempts to explain how qualitative changes occur in the structure and framework of a given society. In this way, it would help the society to realise its aims and objectives better (Riddle, 2008). The Social Process segment concern itself with how new activities emerge in the society whilst the Social Development segment studies how certain factors affect them to develop. Otherwise the theory attempts to explain how the society meets certain objective by organising resources to overcome challenges and exploit opportunities (Midgley, 2013). The social process and social development theory view criminal tendencies and other deviant behaviours as mechanisms that evolve through social interaction and learning. These deviant behaviours, according to the theory, are seen as part of maturational processes, and they involve various perspectives of human being: psychological, physiological and social. The psychological, social, and physiological factors normally occur simultaneously as an individual develops through his social life (Huitt & Dawson, 2011). In this paper, with regard to the theory, the author has chosen to examine how different social processes and development issues evolve at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California. After watching the video Pelican Bay State Prison: War Zone, the study will examine how it supports the selected theory. In this regard, it will be illustrating how the primary subject or content and issues raised in the video support the theory. Finally, the study will also propose possible ramifications to affect the social policy change at the correctional facility and in the society at large.

Primary subject or content of your video

The primary subject or content of this video, Pelican Bay State Prison: War Zone, concerns how non-members or minor members of violent criminal gangs in California interact and learn from pioneer members of the gangs and violent confrontations against other groups to become hardened as formidable violent criminals in the later part of their lives. The case at the Pelican Bay Prison is now the worst in the country. Testimonies reveal that the Prison is like the highest and the most prestigious learning institutions for members of criminal gangs in the State of California. The felonies do not to come for the objective of being rehabilitated to be fit in the society, but to acquire more skills to be more formidable in furthering criminal activities. In fact, members of such violent gangs from other prisoners in California would like to be housed there for such an aim. The Pelican Bay Prison is now the facility where leaders of gangs become most powerful and notorious, and they convert it to a central command of ordering dangerous activities within and outside the prison (Montgomery, 2011).

How Does The Video Support A Social Process Theory And Social Development Theory?

The Social Process and Social Development theory observes that everybody in the society is vulnerable to violate both laws and moral codes, and that tendencies of criminality should not be taken by humans as innate. Instead, criminal activities, just like other behaviours (considered good or bad) can be learnt. This normally occurs through interaction and socialisation with others in the society; for this group, members learn through interaction with gang members and confrontation with enemy gangs (Jacobs & Cleveland, 2015). At the Pelican Bay State Prison, it is apparent from the mention of the content of the video that, that criminal process and development situations there supports the thesis of the Social Process and Social Development theory. This is proven by the fact that since non-members and minor members of the violent street gangs emerge as strongest and most violent through learning and interacting with the members of their groups, as loyal members and constant participants in confrontations with other members of enemy groups. Further, social factors like poor nutrition, tight lock-in in the isolation units, and facilities for physical fitness harden these inmates to be more notorious members when they finish their sentence at the prison. As already noted, the Pelican Bay correctional facility is not now been regarded as a rehabilitation centre. Instead, it has become the major route or as the most prestigious institution that most violent criminal gangs improve their skills in criminality. Further it is a safe haven for the already matured leaders to organise their criminal activities, both inside and outside the prison (Montgomery, 2011).

The Synopsis of the Social Issues at the Pelican Bay State Prison, Californian

Opened in 1989, the Californian Pelican Bay Prison was intended to house the state’s most notorious gang inmates. These inmates are normally gang members brought from other prisons after they have shown worst disciplinary cases. Additionally, the prison’s management has the Security Housing Unit that goes a further step to lock in any inmate identified as a leader of a criminal gang in the prison. Although the facility is supposed to transform the members of the most dangerous gangs in America, it has been turned literally into a war zone; violence is their way of life. Further, the facility has become a criminal corporate headquarters, and it is like the inmates consider their admission there as not a punishment, but as a privilege that one can work hard for. It is noted that notorious members of other prisons strive to make it to the Pelican Bay Prison, because there is a belief among the gang members that once one make to it, everything becomes better. Male guards at the facility establish that the place is like the most prestigious university that such criminals use to hone their criminal skills, but not to rehabilitate themselves. Gang members normally climb ranks by being loyal to a particular gang group and involving constantly in violence against members of other groups, as they improves their skills. This violence does not only stop in the prison but extend beyond its walls to the streets. According to some security officers and prisoners, the leaders of the gangs are so powerful that they can pass criminal orders to subordinates in other prisons and those on the street to commit crimes. In fact when their leaders become arrested to be housed in a tighter Security Housing Units, members can organise hunger strikes to pressurise their release. When a new member joins the prison, he quickly learns about the existence of such gangs and becomes recruited. The gangs are normally racially or regionally organised, and they can launch attacks on others on such grounds. Apart from constant violence among gangs, there are physical fitness facilities that members use to perfect themselves, and when they happen to leave the place, they would have become worse criminals than before. Other than street violence, the gang leaders in the prisons have turned the Pelican Bay facility as the central command for ordering drug trade and killings. However, it has also been noted that not all inmates at the correctional facilities are normally gang leaders from other prisons. This was witnessed in the case of Ernesto Lira, who was erroneously indicated as a gang leader instead of just a drug trafficker (Montgomery, 2011).

How the Social Process and Social Development Theory Explain the Social Situations at the Prison

Processes by which new behaviours or activities emerge
Under this theory, the processes of emergence of new behaviours and activities among humans are six: unconscious versus conscious development, role of pioneering individuals, imitations of the pioneer, organisation of new behaviours and activities, organisations of matures into institution(s) and cultural transmission by members of the gang family (Huitt & Dawson, 2011; Jacobs & Asokan, 1999).
In behaviour learning, humans normally develop from unconscious beings to conscious beings. In this regard, from a “blank slate” scenario, one continues accumulating experiences from countless pioneers, as regards formulas of accomplishments and successes. However, it should be noted that experiences precedes knowledge and therefore unconscious being will be carried away with the former first before learning and becoming exactly aware of what he will be doing as a gang member. In the case of violent criminal gangs at the Californian facility, it is noted that adolescents in the same neighbourhoods with gang pioneers will usually hang out even for a year before the former decide to join them. Reasons for such decisions to become part of the gangs have been noted as exciting experiences like high monetary opportunities from drugs through illegal market, sense of belonging to their peers, protection seeking and so forth (Estrada, et al., 2014; Jacobs, & Cleveland, 2015). However, it has also been noted that some gangs take it as a community obligation for members to join them to strengthen the community’s protection. In this case, they will employ either cool appeals or coercion- both psychological and physical intimidations. Although these situations happens mostly before most gang members are transferred to the Pelican Bay facility, it is possible that there are inmates who are erroneously brought there as gang members. However, due to the already established gang culture, the new unknowing inmate will be initiated in the activities of the group in the same way (Huitt & Dawson, 2011).
The next step will involve role pioneering in individuals. It has been noted that to make unconscious members realise the gang’s really activities, members involve in several initiation rites like being beaten by the same gang members and being taught about the opposing groups. New recruits are often taught symbols of the gang for easier identification by other members. The symbols include dress, language, musical tastes, and tattoos, among others that will symbolise their membership (Jacobs & Cleveland, 2015). However, nicknames can be used to signify one’s role in the group. For instance, one can receive a nickname for his tough confrontation against a certain group. It should be noted that in the study of gangs, ethnicity and nationality have also been noted as symbols for some gangs, especially those formed with racial prejudices (Estrada, et al., 2014). This is possible in the Pelican Bay Prison, in that members are described by their racial and national backgrounds: Black Guerrillas, Mexican Mafias, and Aryan Brotherhood among others. In the Prison, once an inmate from another prison joins it, he would obviously identify himself with a gang, learn its objectives and take up roles of defending it or confronting enemy gangs (FBI, 2011).
The next stage involves imitation of the pioneers in a bid to be gain more voice in the group. In such regard, if a pioneer designs a master plan and members implement it to fruitfulness, news will spread around faming the imitator and him. In this prison, recruits get noted by imitating masters in doing violent and provocative activities like stabbing, fist fighting, drug trafficking and street violence. Further, such gangs will always be collecting information, resources, knowledge, technology, human skills and infrastructure to come up with new activities. As already notes, at this instance, since they know that the Prison is a place that is less suspected by government officers for involving in some criminal activities, they decided to turn it into a central command for executing both internal and external criminal activities. In 1999, members of the Nuestra Familia gang had one of its former member executed. All plans for executions were done inside the Pelican Bay Prison (Huitt & Dawson, 2011).
Maturation of the gang organisation into an institution is the second last stage. After its members have been empowered through higher levels of knowledge, training and experience, the gang will mature to be an institution that is accepted as part of the society. In fact at this point, this gang will not require laws and agencies to function or grow. It is noted that when members of the gang have been fully empowered, they can pressurize the Prison management to act as per their wishes (Midgley, 2013). For instance, in this particular prison, members of a gang can go on a hunger strike to pressurise the guards to release one of them who has been housed in a security unit. The guards note that the gang members have been intelligent, with high intellect to manipulate and orchestrate things in the prison. The last stage is normally cultural transmission that takes place when the members have support of the society. Taking into account that gangs are being identified by ethnicity or country of origin, it is evident that they have been accepted by their ethnic or motherland societies. This is serial noting that the gang becomes regional with more than one members of the same family belonging to it. When such scenario results, it is possible that multigenerational gangs will develop. Some studies have noted that some members of a gang group confessed that their family had had a long history of involving in gangs, dating back from their grandfather who transmitted the culture to their father (Huitt & Dawson, 2011).

On the three stages of development

It is noticeable that the movie fulfils the three stages of development, as physical, vital and mental. Although gang membership arises from physical experience of the gang, this will diminish as its activities expand. In this case, members will be more innovative, curious and adventurous in their criminal activities. New members would start admiring a certain gang when they hear its achievements from various social media. This is possible because, outside, gang members would like to join the Pelican prison due to the prestige that some gangs have gained while there. The last stage is the mental stage which comes when a group has a reached a maturation stage. Apart from its activities being practical and social, they espouse political application of the mind. As already noted in the Pelican Bay situation, despite being outlawed, the prisoners had matured in their behaviours to the point that they could forge a strike to orchestrate a certain political course. However, what underlies in this study is that it is learning and interaction with pioneers in the gang, and confrontations with enemy gangs that result in very notorious gangs after the prison sentence (Huitt & Dawson, 2011).

Ramification Measures

Since education and interaction have been seen as the major seeds in the germination and growth of gangsterism in the mind of a person, the prison management should make sure that notorious pioneers are isolated entirely from the rest of the former gang members. Further, the facilities should ensure that former gang members do not interact to re-engage in their former activities. It has been noticed that former members of the same organisation like the Nuestra Familia gang met at the facility and perfected on implementation of its criminal activities inside and outside the prison (Midgley, 2013). Moreover, the government authorities should engage main transmitters and make them leaders of its awareness campaigns against gangsterism. These former leaders of the gangs, whether inside or outside the prison, will be key in identifying their former members and affected neighbourhood so that the objectives of the awareness can have greater precision and far reaching effect (Petersilia, 2006).Gangs normally thrive in areas that are underdeveloped, with characteristics like drug use and dealing, low security, high violence and crime, low education and unemployment. Therefore, apart from awareness on how to escape from such situations, the government should put up superior facilities and services to overcome them (Petersilia, 2006). Although isolation units are good for individuals who pose major security risks to the society, the government should have a nuanced approach on educating and interacting with other gang members to support those that can abandon gang memberships. Further, since information from neighbourhoods where gangs operate spread like a disease, some authors have noted that they should be quarantined. This will avoid the information from them being learnt by members of other neighbourhoods. In this regard, too, the youths from the affected areas would not interact with those from other neighbourhoods (Midgley, 2013).


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risk and protective behaviors in California high schools. Journal of School Violence, 13(2).
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impact it. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved on 9 March 2015 from
Jacobs, G. & Asokan, N. (1999). Towards a comprehensive theory of social development.
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Riddle, E. (2008).Lev Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory. Retrieved on 9 March 2015

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