Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do good correctional officers get corrupted by bad situations?

Do good people get corrupted by bad situations? That is exactly what Philip Zimbardo set off to figure out with his Stanford Prison Experiment. This very controversial experiment took place in the basement of one of the buildings at Stanford University. he had couple dozen volunteers and then split them up into two different groups: Guards and Inmates. The guards were given a uniform, which also had sun glasses because Zimbardo thought it would be more effective if the inmates were unable to see the guards eyes. The inmates were actually arrested by real police officers from their homes and transported to the newly made prison in the basement. They were each given a prisoner outfit and their very own identification numbers. After that point they were never to be referred to as their real names, only their identification numbers. The experiment was supposed to last two weeks. The following is a slide show of pictures and information about what happened in that basement:

 What must be remembered about this experiment is that these people were college students. This prison started to seem very real to them. They were treated exactly how a real inmate would be treated. They stripped them naked and sprayed them with delousing spray. They were chained by their ankles and were required to stay in their cells. Very quickly the guards decided to show their dominance of the inmates. They began to publicly humiliate them and sexually embarrass them. They made the inmates do terrible things, like making them do sexually embarrassing things to each other. There was a slight rebellion from the inmates and the guards locked the leader of the rebellion in a closet.

After only a few days of this experiment, the inmates started to forget it was an experiment and began to believe they were really in a prison. Some even had to be let go early because of mental stability, and the others would be crying all the way through the night. The guards on the other hand were enjoying the way they treated the prisoners and believed that the prisoners were lesser human beings. The two week experiment was cut short by Zimbardo, it had only lasted six days. If this kind of thing was to happen with college students in a volunteer operation, what is it really like in a real prison? Something very similar happened in Abu Ghraib a number of years ago. American soldiers did terrible and sexually embarrassing things to Iraqi inmates. This caught a lot of media coverage and the soldiers were found guilty in trial. Zimbardo actually took the stand to defend the soldiers, saying that good people get corrupted by bad situations, and that we all would have done the same thing. The jury thought that was not a good enough reason and convicted the soldiers. Do good people really get corrupted by these bad situations? If we are to become corrections officers, how do we avoid this and make sure it does not corrupt us as well? We must always know that the inmates are real people and they must be treated fairly. We cannot let the bad situation corrupt us.


  1. I have always found this experiment so fascinating! It blows my mind that the subjects of the experiment took on the actual roles of prison guards and inmates. I can't quite understand how the "guards" let it get to their heads that they were actually guards and I can't even image how the "inmates" felt. I feel like if I was in that situation, I would have been thinking that it was just an experiment until the guards started treating me badly.

    I feel like in some prions/similar situations, it can be very easy for officials to become corrupt. They are in a powerful position playing a powerful role in our criminal justice system and are surrounded with a somewhat negative situation (depending on what prison you work at). While I do not agree at all with the mistreatment of prisoners, I feel that it is just a fact of life when you are in a place like that.

  2. I remember learning about this experiment a few years back. It just goes to show that anyone no matter what their job or role might be in a situation can take advantage of how to act and carry on acting out. Corruption will always be there, it's hard for society to distinguish right from wrong when they get to have an ounce of power. It all comes down to ones own moral values. Inmates in this experience begin to act out because they had to act a role that was being pushed on them by the correctional officers. I don't agree with the mistreatment of prisoners, but correctional officers have to be stern in situations like these, but shouldn't necessarily cross the line.

  3. In theory this experiment was supposed to be a good idea. Unfortunately it was not carried out the right way and things went horribly awry. I learned about this experiment in a different CJS class here at ISU.
    Being an officer in a prison comes with a lot of responsibility and stress. You might have officers snapping from pressure and assaulting an inmate, or a "bad cop" who is essentially looking for a way to abuse his/her powers. Some officers and prison guards that should have no business in the uniform slip through the weeding out processes and end up in a position of power. Eventually, I believe that these are the kinds of people you hear about in the news when a cop wrongfully assaults someone in the community or in prison.