Respect In Prisons


Courts and Prisons
Author Lee Hodge

Respect is a critical concept in the detention environment but as Special Adviser on Men and Prisons, Lee Hodge points out it can mean different things depending on where you sit. In this piece, Lee stresses the need for a shared understanding and application of respect in all circumstances, difficult as that might be.

During the time I've spent working with men in the area of corrections and detention the concept of respect has arisen many times. The helping professions seem to have an understanding of what respect means, which is duly trotted out whenever a group of practitioners get together to discuss models of practice, and men in detention certainly have ideas of what respect means to them. However the two notions don't always rest easily together. The question of why there is often this difference in meaning lead me to consult with both groups in an attempt to bridge the gap and hopefully come to a more equal understanding.

One professional described respect as `... treating others as you would like to be treated.' I agreed and also thought the values of non-judgmentalism and unconditional positive regard as worthy additions to the list of descriptions. Much harder to practice than preach but worthwhile beliefs nevertheless. All these and more have I heard from those people who make their living helping others, and many have succeeded in what they set out to do. Their methods of practice have been honest, developed with integrity and awareness, with full regard to the inherent imbalance of power between worker and client. Unfortunately, when I've spoken to some men in detention the message hasn't been received as intended.

When asked about respect these men talked about how some of their peers have acquired this. It usually had something to do with physical strength or the ability to engender fear using `stand over' tactics. One young man talked of how his mate could beat up three men even when ` pissed out of his head on a bottle of Jacks'. This was stated with some awe. When questioned further it seemed that even though this particular young man wasn't about to copy his friend it was a glorious feat nevertheless, an act to be proud of. It seemed clear to me that the notion of respect among inmates was a far cry from what was discussed at case conferences. I probed further and discovered that most of the young men I talked to would not like to have been the victim in the previous scenario. In fact they would have gone to great lengths to avoid being beaten. Somehow, fear and respect meant the same thing in some circumstances. I was beginning to get a glimmer of understanding.

The meanings made by these young men in detention when respect was mentioned to them in conversations with their social workers was interesting to understand. Their workers spoke of respect, the young men heard words that didn't hold much sense. Until the concept was explained and respectful behavior exhibited, both players in the game of worker/client followed different rules. True understanding sometimes came only after protracted sessions. Only when workers were committed enough to learn the language of detention and from a sense of genuine curiosity ask questions of the young men for whom they had responsibility did meanings become shared. `Respect' meant to be cared about, be listened to, treated with compassion and humanity regardless of their crimes, but was often called other names and not often well received. Respect also meant to be treated with dignity, difficult enough for some workers when times were good, let alone when times were rough and compassion wore very thin.

I believe that it’s during the testing times that respect for the person is paramount even when the behavior is abhorrent. The real test of and for humanity is when the behavior isn't (or at least doesn't seem that way), and what will be remembered is what attitudes and values prevailed, not necessarily what was said and done.


What Is Respect??

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