The rhetoric of imprisonment : selections, deflections, and reflections of reality in correctional communication practices

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Elizabeth Joy Nissly (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
Nathan Kreuter

Abstract: This work analyzes the rhetoric of incarceration in the United States, examining how our social hierarchy, systems of power, moral ideologies, and discourse practices have contributed to our status as the global leader of mass incarceration, the state of our nation’s correctional facilities, and the treatment of incarcerated individuals. The author argues that significant progress in corrections reform will only occur as the result of a comprehensive investigation into our current approaches to communicating about and with incarcerated individuals. Using Kenneth Burke’s theories of identification, division, consubstantiality, and terministic screens, the author analyzes how social perceptions of crime, prisoners, and deviance are constructed by communication practices within correctional agencies. Attention is specifically focused on the use of silence, labeling, and institutional language and the way these communication practices reinforce deviance and prohibit identification between the public and prisoners. Communications from officials employed at Lancaster County Prison in Lancaster, Pennsylvania are evaluated as a way of concretely illustrating the impact that socially constructed perceptions of incarcerated individuals have on staff-prisoner interactions and prisoners’ wellbeing. The author applies Burke’s theories of identification, division, consubstantiality, and terministic screens to two documents released to the public—“Commitment, Intake and Classification Information,” which describes initial incarceration practices at the prison, and Suicide Prevention Practices, Lancaster County Prison, which was compiled by the prison’s healthcare manager, PrimeCare Medical, and summarizes a review of mental healthcare practices at the facility. The author hopes that analyzing these documents will shed light on how dehumanizing communication practices have contributed to the high rate of inmate suicide at Lancaster County Prison.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Communication, Imprisonment, Perceptions, Prisoners, Rhetoric, Suicide
Rhetoric -- Social aspects -- United States
Communication in law enforcement -- Social aspects -- United States
Communication in law enforcement -- Pennsylvania -- Lancaster County
Correctional institutions -- United States -- Influence
Correctional institutions -- Social aspects -- United States

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