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University of Silesia in Katowice

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Freedom of Research | Sense of stigmatisation among inmates

20.10.2022 - 11:58 update 25.10.2022 - 12:37
Editors: OO



“Freedom of Research – Science for the Future” series consists of articles, interviews and short videos presenting research conducted by the winners of the “Freedom of Research” call for proposals

Wiola Friedrich, PhD

Sense of stigmatisation among inmates

| Olimpia Orządała |

Prison sentence is often associated with complete isolation from the outside world. In closed prisons, inmates spend twenty-three hours a day in their cells. This facilitates the sense of stigmatisation among prisoners. The research on this topic was undertaken by Wiola Friedrich, PhD from the Institute of Psychology of the University of Silesia in Katowice as part of the first edition of the “Freedom of Research” competition of the Research Excellence Initiative.

dr Wiola Friedrich
Wiola Friedrich, PhD from the Institute of Psychology of the University of Silesia in Katowice | Photo by private archive of W. Friedrich, PhD

The aim of the scientist was to develop the Polish version of the English-language tool for measuring the sense of stigmatisation of inmates – Self-stigma of Individuals with Criminal Records (SSICR).

The winner of the competition conducted surveys in five penitentiary units: in detention centres in Katowice, Sosnowiec and Mysłowice, as well as in prisons in Racibórz and Wojkowice. The research covered 186 men – both those convicted for the first time and recidivists.

“I always try to make the group diverse”, emphasises the psychologist from the University of Silesia. “Thanks to this, I can compare the results. In subsequent studies, I will describe how strong the sense of stigmatisation is and how it relates to personality traits and the feeling of anxiety. My hypothesis is that the sense of stigmatisation is higher in recidivists.”

At the beginning, the inmates filled in a questionnaire prepared by W. Friedrich, PhD which included, among others, demographic and penitentiary questions – what was the sentence for, what is the length of the sentence and whether the person was previously punished. In addition, the researcher used other questionnaires: STAI to test the feeling of anxiety as a state and trait, SES measuring self-esteem and Beck’s depression scale. In the SSICR questionnaire itself, prisoners answered questions related to three aspects.

“First, the questions were about what inmates think society thinks of them (e.g. ‘In my opinion, society thinks that most people with a criminal record cannot be trusted’). Secondly, respondents expressed their opinions about other prisoners (e.g. ‘In my opinion, most people with a criminal past are disgusting’). Thirdly, they referred to their views on themselves (e.g. “Due to the fact that I have a criminal history, my IQ is below average’)”, explains the winner of the “Freedom of Research” competition.

The SSICR questionnaire, with the consent of its American authors, was adapted to Polish conditions.

“I hope that employees and students will use it in their research”, says the psychologist. The tool was shared in an article published in the magazine „Resocjalizacja Polska” [Polish Resocialisation].

This is not the only research conducted by W. Friedrich, PhD among prisoners. The scientist is particularly interested in penitentiary psychology. She carried out her first research in prisons while writing her Master’s thesis, which was devoted to the personality and temperamental characteristics of female perpetrators of crimes.

“I have my own way of dealing with inmates”, says the psychologist. “I always try to do research individually. The feeling of autonomy and self-determination is very important for prisoners, because it is a prison sentence, and in prisons their rights are limited. Hence, making their own decisions about whether they will participate in the study or not is the key for them to cooperate. Some even like to take part in research because they can leave their cell and talk to someone from the outside.”

W. Friedrich, PhD is currently writing an article about the functioning of inmates during the pandemic, which, according to the psychologist, increased the sense of isolation among them. The research, carried out partially as part of a project co-financed in the “Postcovid Horizon” competition of the Research Excellence Initiative, was realised at the turn of 2021 and 2022.

The researcher is also planning research on pregnant female inmates or on the experience of motherhood in prison isolation.

“I think it will be difficult because there are very few women in the prison population. It is only a few percent, and there are even fewer pregnant women. Perhaps I will deal more with experiencing motherhood from behind bars. This topic is quite neglected”, says W. Friedrich, PhD.

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