Degradation at Our Expense
Getting arrested is a very disturbing event for most people. Having the police come to your house to find you is even more disruptive to the human psyche. The events that occur during that particular event can have lasting negative effects. The procedures police use during arrests lead to people feeling degraded and dehumanized as well as angry, confused, and fearful. Having to endure that experience would probably be too much for me to handle personally. The rapport that police will have with the common person from that point on in their lives may be permanently changed or damaged due to how they were treated.
During the arrest procedure in The Stanford Prison Experiment, the suspects were picked up at home, informed of why they were being arrested, searched on the police car in front of neighbors, and then driven away in the squad car with “sirens wailing” (prisonexp.org, 2009). This is the first reason why the procedure is disturbing. Having a group of police come to your residence, bust in the door if necessary, and drag you outside to complete their arrest procedure is downright humiliating, especially if your neighbors are watching. The police really do not care who sees them! Driving off with you in the backseat, sirens sounding, just adds to the feeling. All along the suspect thinks they are being charged with a violation of Penal Code 211, Armed Robbery, and Burglary, PC 459 (prisonexp.org, 2009), knowing in their heart that they did not commit any crime. The worst part is that the crime was never actually committed; this was all a ploy to see how far the suspects could be pushed or how much they could endure before they cracked, and how they will react for the rest of their journey .
Next on the list of degrading acts by the “police” is when they arrive to the make-shift prison. Here the suspects are put through the whole normal booking procedure with a little extra; they are strip searched, hosed down for bugs, and given a smock-like dress to wear…..with nothing underneath. The prisoners were made to be completely humiliated by acting as if they had some awful germs by spraying them off, then had to wear garments that resembled dresses and be naked under them, and be shackled. Their whole persona would change, how they sat had to change so their private parts did not show, how they walked and carried themselves had to be adjusted, and they thought they were being marked as dirty, low-class, less than human citizens. How infuriating it must have been for these men.
Heinous events continued to occur in the “prison” until it finally ended early after six days because of the abuse the men were receiving from the fake guards, and the conditions the men were being subjected to was unacceptable. The prisoners were informed that it had all been an experiment and just released and expected to go on living their lives as if nothing had ever happened. These prisoners still felt confused, fearful, degraded, and dehumanized due to what they had just been through. Will they always get that yucky feeling in their guts when they see a police car or hear a siren? Will their view of police change to negative if they have never been to a real prison because they have a vision in their head of how it is?
Obviously in current times, this experiment would not occur. Ethically, it would not be allowed. It would be impossible to have unbiased results if the prisoners were told of the experiment previous to them being subjected to it. However, it would not get an approval due to the circumstances they out people in. Another factor is that people are more informed of their rights and will exercise those, even if it means when they are released. Lawsuits would be brought up and charges filed for mistreatment. Even the guards had to endure going against their morals at times and having to think that they had to almost fight for their lives so they used extreme force. For this to all be fake, it damaged many people. Those effects can last forever.
On a personal level, I was arrested for something I did not know was going on, nor did I do. The police came to my house, broke down my door, cuffed everyone in the house, including my son who was twelve at the time, accused me of all kinds of things that I did not do, threatened to have my son taken away-right in front of him, made a mess of my car and house, and hauled me out in cuffs to jail. They did not care who saw me, who they damaged, who was really telling the truth, or what personal property they ruined. All they were interested in was making an arrest based on their search warrant and the charges filed against me. It was degrading and humiliating, not to mention horrifying and embarrassing. I had never been in trouble in my life for anything and have only gotten pulled over twice. This was over eight months ago and I still have issues; every time I hear cars outside my house, I get that bad feeling in my stomach, seeing a police car makes me nervous, and my son is just as bad. Luckily I got released that day. If I would have had to stay there for any amount of time, I think I would have gone crazy. It was dirty and the correctional officers speak to you like you are sub-human, including cussing and telling you that they do not care what you need or want.
The saddest part about the whole experiment, or current situations, is that the future repercussions are not taken into account. The men they took in for the experiment back in 1971 might have really been bothered by the whole episode. They might have been permanently damaged and have a mild case of PTSD. Their families were affected as well by thinking that their loved one had actually committed some awful crime and knowing they were in abhorrent conditions. Being arrested and treated with such disrespect stays with you forever and leaves a bad taste In your mouth towards law enforcement, even with my son. Granted, police do good things, the bad things they do tend to stick in people’s minds and build a foundation as to how they will react in a situation. Some people are labeled as institutionalized and never recover from the circumstances they have had to deal with. Releasing them into society can have detrimental effects on everyone, including the individual. The relationship between society and the individual then becomes a reciprocal one and they will react to the situation accordingly, whether it will have positive or negative consequences.
Zimbardo, Philip. (1999-2009). Stanford Prison Experiment. Retrieved April 15, 2009 from