Delinquent Self As a “Frame Trap”: The Routine Processing of Inmates in Youth Detention Centers

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Bruna GISI MARTINS DE ALMEIDA, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil
This paper aims at analyzing how the staff of youth detention centers, while making institutional practices accountable, exerts control over inmates and contribute to impose a “delinquent self” on them. The analysis was based on a research developed in four youth detention centers in Brazil that involved interviews with staff members and observations. The activities of the process by which the institutional members produce the decision of releasing the youth were investigated. In these centers there was a system of privileges and punishments that was used to evaluate the inmates’ behavior and to guarantee their compliance with the rules. The folk theories of delinquency elaborated by staff explain the criminal behavior as the result of poor life conditions and a lack of proper moral judgment derived from these conditions. Inside the institution, however, the youth is seen as capable of self-directing and changing his conduct. Once the adolescent is placed in the institution, his definition as a “delinquent”- emergent product of the processing by the juvenile justice system – becomes a frame of reference used by staff to interpret the juvenile’s behavior. This frame, however, does not consist of a set of specific ideas with closed meanings, instead it works as an underlying pattern. If the adolescent shows anxiety toward the evaluation system, this is a sign of not being “ready” or changed enough. When he follows the rules and activities imposed, he is accepting the need to “change” his life, attitudes and morals. If the staff feels, however, that he is following the rules “just because” he wants to be released, it is an evidence of being intrinsically criminal. In something that could be defined as a frame trap, all the inmate’s attempts to deal with his situation in the institution are used as evidences of his delinquent self.