Robert K. Merton, in 1938, began delving into how societal arrangements could create, maintain, and exacerbate social tension and individual stress. His theory of ‘strain’ – tremendously oversimplified – proposes that crime/deviance becomes more likely when a disjuncture exists between culturally derived ends (i.e. monetary success) and what the social structure makes possible. This theoretical framework, from its onset, has been the focus of numerous efforts; being tested, criticized, buttressed, and modified to increase its viability. As a result, sociology and criminology now offer a variety of strain models so as to enhance an understanding of criminogenic conditions, criminal behaviors, and social deviance (see Merton, 1938; Cohen, 1955; Cloward & Ohlin 1960; Agnew, 1992, 2002; Messner & Rosenfeld 1994). However, criminologists and sociologists alike are recognizing conditions that, once again, may result in the modification or further development of the strain tradition.
The BBC has today announced that the British government has decided to scrap plans for the creation of so-called “Titan” prisons. These prisons – first announced in December 2007 – were each expected to accommodate 2,500 prisoners at a cost of £350 million per institution. Although, the introduction of these prisons has been met with criticism, (partly because of their perceived similarity to American jails), it had seemed as if the government was totally committed to the project.
At present, HMP Wandsworth [pictured] is the largest institution in the prison estate (currently accommodating 1,461 prisoners), but the government plans a further five establishments with capacity for 1,500 in each. In spite of the current economic climate, government sources deny there is any link between the economy and their decision regarding the “Titan” jails. Instead, the Ministry of Justice has pointed out that prison places will still increase as originally planned, although the new prisons will be smaller.
Although, many groups and individuals may initially welcome the demise of the “Titan” prisons, it would seem that the problems of incarceration are still not being tackled. Arguably, by continuing to create more places, the prison crisis will continue unabated.