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Social Structure Theory

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Social Structure Theory

According to Schmalleger (2012), social structure "theories look at the formal and informal economic and social arrangements (or structure) of society as the root causes of crime and deviance. These theories also see the negative aspects of societal structure, such as disorganization within the family, poverty, or income inequality, and disadvantages due to lack of success in the educational process, as producers of criminal behavior (p151-152). This paper will address the social structure theories and the major principles of sociological theories within Tent City, Arizona. This paper will also discuss the social issues that occur in Tent City, as well as possible ramifications for social policy change.

Tent City and Social Structure Theory.

Tent City, Arizona is known as one of the harshest jails within both the state and nation. The jail is run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and consists of military-like tents. According to Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (2015), "These tents were set up in an area adjacent to one of the existing Maricopa County Jails in Phoenix, Arizona" (para. 1), and can hold up to 2,126 prisoners. This jail is a no tolerant atmosphere, yet crime continues to happen through the contraband trade. Many of these inmates have been sentenced here for various offences though many of them have been charged with multiple crimes and have had multiple jail sentences.

The two most noticeable social structure theories that can be seen in Tent City are the strain theory and the social structure theory. Schmalleger (2012) stated that the strain theory describes criminal behavior "as a form of adaptive problem-solving behavior committed in response to problems involving frustrating and undesirable social environments" (p. 157). The objectionable environment is explained by being jail though it is further explained through the culture conflict theory of Tent City. The culture conflict theory "suggests that the root cause of criminality can be found in a clash of values between differently socialized groups over what is acceptable or proper behavior" (Schmalleger, 2012). The culture conflict theory of Tent City is seen in the separation of the inmates into their racial groups. Each of these groups in turn has their set of rules to abide by. According to an internet video, "Each group has its own seating area and name. African Americans are called Kinfolk. Mexicans, Paisas. Mexican Americans, Chicanos. Native Americans, Chiefs. And the Whites are called the Woods. The groups claim they exist to provide protection. Officers say their purpose is controlling inmates and contraband" (University of Phoenix Library, 2013). When one of these groups clashes with another, it can lead to the outbreak of a fight, although many times the majority of the conflict is within one of these groups. This is due to one inmate not doing what his/her racial group has required of them and has made clear through their rules.

Social Issues.

There are many social probelms that prisons and jails face. Typically, the social issues are the same from one to the next, although they vary in reasoning within Tent City. Every inmate comes from a different background but has to adapt to life in the system. For many inmates, this means they have to adjust to specific rules set upon them by the group that they associate themselves with. This has been mentioned in the Lockdown Tent City video and continuously in this paper, and is typically dealing with racial segregation. Racial segregation will also spark the issue of violence among the separate groups in Tent City, as well as within the same group if one is not complying with that group's rules. Another social issue that Tent City sees is that inmates that are sentenced there are repeat offenders, which means that they are typically from a lower financial place in society and crime is one of the only ways they know how to get by. Poverty is one of the main reasons crime is committed. Those in poverty have a higher likeliness of stealing or developing a drug habit to deal with the things they lack in life. Due to their life of poverty and crime, many of these inmates have not had much education outside of high school. Many of them are also high school dropouts or were kicked out of school due to the lack of drive to finish school or due to continuous behavior or crime problems at school.

Some other social issues that Tent City is substance abuse/contraband, housing, employment, education, and privileges. Tent City is known for being tremendously strict on what the inmates are allowed to have, so the possibility of having contraband can be higher than most jails. This is due to the fact that Sheriff Joe Arpaio has taken many basic things away from inmates such as sugar, salt, and pepper to help reduce the cost of running the jail and use of taxpayers' money. Despite these and many other things being prohibited, the inmates still manage to have it and sell it among themselves. The contraband rules are tied into the lack of privileges that the inmates have in Tent City. A few of the privileges that Tent City lack are the lack of exercise ability or workout equipment, as well as the inmates are only allowed to watch one child-like channel if they want to watch television at all. The work that a select amount of inmates is allowed to perform consists of various tasks while on a chain gang. One of these tasks mentioned in the Lockdown Tent City video consisted of burying the bodies of the homeless



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