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The Importation Model

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The Importation Model

When a person in prison or an institutional environment is aggressive, many begin to question the origins of such aggressive behaviour. Some blame the prison environment, suggesting it is a hotbed of illegal activities that incentivise aggressive acts, whilst others suggest it is due to individual traits already present in the person before they were incarcerated.

Dispositional explanation: the importation model

Two different theories have attempted to explore these explanations. One of those is the importation model, also known as the dispositional explanation. Established by Irwin and Cressey (1962), the importation model emphasises the individual's characteristics as the cause of the aggression rather than the fault lies with the institution.

Importation Model, Thief Stealing Importation Model, StudySmarterThief, freepik.com/storyset

The dispositional explanation focuses on the individual's disposition in that it emphasises the individual's inherent characteristics they developed before entering the institution being the cause of their aggressive behaviours. Their aggression stems from their personality and other factors, such as social class.

You can read more about this in our article Institutional Aggression in the Context of Prisons.

In reference to social class, this relates to the social norms they were brought up around and the people they knew before entering an institution.

For example, a person who associates with people who deal drugs or commit crimes may continue to perpetuate these behaviours once they have entered prison. They are used to this and may even seek out like-minded individuals.

The importation model was developed by Irwin and Cressey (1962). Prisoners 'import' their behaviours and personality traits from outside into the prison and continue to perpetuate these behaviours once 'inside'.

Overall, the importation model explores the risk factors associated between a person's disposition and institutional aggression in prisons. So, before looking at some importation model examples of risk factors, let's establish the dispositional explanation of behaviour.

The importation model is the counter model to the deprivation model, also known as the situational explanation.

Dispositional explanation of behaviour

When discussing the dispositional explanation of behaviour, we talk about an individual's characteristics.

Dispositional explanations assign personal attribution to actions or behaviours, suggesting they are a result or cause of feelings, judgements, traits, behaviours, social upbringing and associations, etc. It focuses on the internal, psychological reasoning behind these behaviours, personal and specific to the individual.

The Imprortation Model, Personality and traits of a person, StudySmarterPersonality and traits of a person, freepik.com/storyset

Dispositional explanation: the importation model examples

There are some specific importation model examples of risk factors we can outline here, and we have briefly touched upon them above. They include:

  • Norms in criminal circles (such as drug dealing, theft, assault and physical violence)
  • Anti-social behaviours
  • Aggressive beliefs
  • Gang behaviours/associations

As you can see, each example can affect a person's disposition. The norm in someone's social circle shapes their personality, and they bring these behaviours into an institution through importation. What they are familiar with on the outside will inevitably dictate how they behave on the inside.

Evaluation: research into the importation model

Research into the importation model analyses the legitimacy of the theory. Let's explore some notable examples.

Measuring Alcohol Abuse and the Incidence of Serious Misconduct in Violent Offenders

Mills et al. (1998) wanted to identify if there was an association between alcohol abuse and inmate aggression. Under the importation model, such associations would support the theory, as its the inmate's disposition before the prison environment which is causing the behaviours. The researchers used:

  • A self-report measure of alcohol abuse (ADS, alcohol dependence scale).
  • 207 violent offenders sample

They found that offenders who had issues with alcohol abuse, specifically if they depended quite highly on alcohol, were more likely to be and were more involved in serious incidents than the controls. Those who depended on alcohol had a higher level of aggression. This supports the importation model, as the prisoners bring aggressive behaviours into the institution.

Gang members, career criminals and prison violence

Delisi et al. (2004) wanted to investigate the association between prison violence and inmate involvement in gangs (both inside and outside of prison). As the importation model suggests, the prison inmates' violent/aggressive behaviours result from the involvement and inherent characteristics they develop in these gangs, which they bring with them into prison. The researchers used:

  • 831 male inmate samples from Southwestern USA.

They found that the overall effect of gang membership was lower than first anticipated. Compared to other risk factors, such as chronic offending, violent history and previous incarcerations, gang membership effects were smaller. Gang members are not more violent than other prisoners, which does not support the idea put forward by the importation model.

Race, age, and social backgrounds

Kane and Janus (1981) investigated the demographical risk factors associated with aggression. This supports the idea of the importation model, as these are the inherent characteristics prisoners have before entering a prison environment; they predispose them, supposedly, to aggression.

They reported to the Federal Prison System (FPS) some demographics that would increase the chances of violence occurring during incarceration:

  • Past dependence on drugs (such as opiates)

  • Unemployment

  • Less education

Similarly, in terms of race and age, non-white and younger inmates were more likely to be violent According to Kane and Janus (1981), this may be due to a lack of support systems for these populations compared to others and how the subculture within non-white and younger inmates may encourage violent solutions.

Those who are unemployed for longer periods of time are more likely to be aggressive and violent. Overall, this supports the importation model.

The Imprortation Model, Gang Aggression, StudySmarterGang behaviours, freepik.com/macrovector

Overall research evaluation

Overall, we can say that there is research evidence for and against the importation model. Whilst Mills et al. (1998) and Kane and Janus (1981) support the model, DeLisi et al. (2004) highlight issues with the theory. Problems with such research lie in them being androcentric. They focus on male prisoners, which reduces the generalisability both to the population and female prisoners.

Some argue that the model is too simplistic and ignores other important factors that may incite aggression. Other models, such as the deprivation model, explore other factors affecting aggression.

Deprivation model vs importation model

The deprivation model can be considered the counter model to the importation model in that it emphasises the institution being the cause of aggression in individuals. This is also known as the situational explanation, as the institution is said to be the cause. In an institution, such as a prison, certain liberties are taken from the inmates, such as freedom and access to certain luxuries. Some of those are:

  • The loss of autonomy

  • The loss of liberty

  • The loss of security

  • The loss of heterosexual relationships

  • The loss of luxuries (services and goods)

Sykes (1958) described these deprivations as the pains of imprisonment, and as this would suggest, it causes stress and discomfort for the inmates. This is not entirely unwarranted, as the institution enacts these deprivations as a form of punishment. The inmates have committed a crime and therefore deserve to be punished in some regard, and lack of such liberties is the punishment.

Does this punishment incite aggression? And is this enough of a cause for concern to warrant a change in these systems? The deprivation model argues that these losses (autonomy, liberty, luxuries etc.) cause aggression, alongside other factors within the institution, such as staff behaviours and environmental factors, whereas the importation model, as we have discussed above, argues the causes of aggression lie in the dispositions of the individuals themselves; they import them into the institution with them from their previous backgrounds when they enter.

Studies that support this model include Megargee (1977). Over three years, they found that crowding in prisons was correlated with disruptive behaviours.


Dispositional explanation: The importation model - Key takeaways

  • The importation model was developed by Irwin and Cressey (1962). It is also known as the dispositional explanation. The importation model is the countermodel to the deprivation model, also known as the situational explanation.
  • Dispositional explanations assign personal attribution to actions or behaviours, suggesting they are a result or cause of feelings, judgements, traits, behaviours, social upbringing and associations, and so on. It focuses on the internal, psychological reasoning behind these behaviours, personal and specific to the individual.
  • Overall, the importation model explores the risk factors associated between a person's disposition and institutional aggression in prisons. Prisoners 'import' their behaviours and personality traits from outside the prison into the jail and continue to perpetuate these behaviours once 'inside'.
  • Risk factors associated with the importation model include gang associations, criminal behaviour and norms adopted before incarceration, anti-social behaviours, social upbringing and other personality traits.
  • Mills et al. (1998) and Kane and Janus (1981) support the model, whilst DeLisi et al. (2004) highlight issues with the model.
  • Overall, the importation model has issues with reductionism and androcentric research support, but the evidence does suggest there are associations between a person's disposition and their predisposition to violent/aggressive behaviours.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Importation Model

The importation model was developed by Irwin and Cressey (1962). It is the idea that prisoners 'import' their behaviours and personality traits from outside into the prison and continue to perpetuate these behaviours once 'inside'. It attempts to explain aggressive behaviours in institutions. 

The dispositional explanation focuses on the individual's disposition in that it emphasises the individual's inherent characteristics they developed before entering an institution being the cause of their aggressive behaviours. Their aggression stems from their personality, in a sense. 

The deprivation model argues that the deprivations in an institution (loss of autonomy, liberty, luxuries, etc.) cause aggression, alongside other factors within the institution, such as staff behaviours and environmental factors, whereas the importation model argues the causes of aggression lie in the dispositions of the individuals themselves; they import them into the institution from their previous backgrounds. 

Sykes suggested that the 5 pains of imprisonment were:


  • The loss of autonomy
  • The loss of liberty
  • The loss of security
  • The loss of heterosexual relationships
  • The loss of luxuries (services and goods)

The importation hypothesis proposes that aggressive behaviours in an institution stem from an individual's dispositions before they entered the institution.

Final The Importation Model Quiz

Question

Who established the importation model?

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Answer

Irwin and Cressey (1962)

Show question

Question

Define dispositional explanations.

Show answer

Answer

Dispositional explanations assign personal attribution to actions or behaviours, suggesting they are a result or cause of feelings, judgements, traits, behaviours, social upbringing and associations, and so on and so forth. It focuses on the internal, psychological reasoning behind these behaviours, personal and specific to the individual.  

Show question

Question

What is the countermodel to the importation model?

Show answer

Answer

The deprivation model, also known as the situational explanation. 

Show question

Question

What is the importation model?

Show answer

Answer

It is the idea that prisoners 'import' their behaviours and personality traits from outside of the prison, into the prison, and will continue to perpetuate these behaviours once 'inside'. It attempts to explain aggressive behaviours in institutions through this idea.  

Show question

Question

What is the difference between the importation model and the deprivation model?

Show answer

Answer

The deprivation model argues that the deprivations in an institution (loss of autonomy, liberty, luxuries etc.) cause aggression, alongside other factors such as staff behaviours and environmental factors, whereas the importation model argues the causes of aggression lie in the dispositions of the individuals themselves; they import them into the institution with them from their previous backgrounds when they enter.  

Show question

Question

What are some risk factors in the importation model?

Show answer

Answer

  • Norms in criminal circles (such as drug dealing, theft, assault and physical violence)
  • Anti-social behaviours
  • Aggressive beliefs
  • Gang behaviours/associations

Show question

Question

What did Mills et al. (1998) find in their study on alcohol abuse and violent offenders?

Show answer

Answer

They found that offenders who had issues with alcohol abuse, specifically if they depended quite highly on alcohol, were more likely to be and were more involved in serious incidents compared to the controls. 


Those who depended on alcohol had a higher level of aggression. 


Show question

Question

What did DeLisi et al. (2004) find in their study on gang members and prison violence?

Show answer

Answer

They found that the overall effect of gang membership was lower than first anticipated, and when compared to other risk factors, such as chronic offending, violent history and previous incarcerations, gang membership effects were in fact smaller. 


Gang members are not more violent than other prisoners, which does not support the idea put forwards by the importation model. 

Show question

Question

What did Kane and Janus (1981) find in their study on demographical backgrounds and aggression in institutions?

Show answer

Answer

Past dependence on drugs (such as opiates), long periods of unemployment, and less education would increase the chances of violence occurring during incarceration. 


Similarly, in terms of race and age, non-white and younger inmates were more likely to be violent


According to Kane and Janus (1981), this may be due to a lack of support systems in the aforementioned populations compared to others, and how the subculture within non-white and younger inmates may encourage violent solutions. 

Show question

Question

What are some issues with the research that supports/opposes the importation model?

Show answer

Answer

Issues with such research lie in them being androcentric. They focus on male prisoners, which reduces the generalisability both to the population and female prisoners. 


Some argue that the model is too simplistic and ignores other, important factors that may incite aggression. 

Show question

Question

What are the five pains of imprisonment, according to Sykes?

Show answer

Answer

  • The loss of autonomy

  • The loss of liberty

  • The loss of security

  • The loss of heterosexual relationships

  • The loss of luxuries (services and goods)

Show question

Question

What did Megargee (1997) find in their study on the deprivation model?

Show answer

Answer

Over a 3-year period, they found that crowding in prisons was correlated with disruptive behaviours.  

Show question

Question

What is an example of the importation model in action?

Show answer

Answer

A person who associates with people who deal drugs or commit crimes may continue to perpetuate these behaviours once they have entered prison, as they are used to this and may even seek out like-minded individuals.  

Show question

Question

What self-report measure did Mills et al. (1998) use to identify dependency habits in violent offenders?

Show answer

Answer

A self-report measure of alcohol abuse (ADS, alcohol dependence scale).

Show question

Question

How many participants were involved in the study by DeLisi et al. (2004) on gang associations and violence in prison?

Show answer

Answer

831 male inmate samples from Southwestern USA. 

Show question

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