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The term "coping" is usually used to refer to those personal, contextual, and/or social strategies which people use in dealing with situations that are perceived as causing stress or psychological distress. It should be noted that coping is regarded as a voluntary and conscious effort, rather than an automatic or instinctive act. Similarly, the subjective perception of the degree of stress associated with a given situation is also important: situations that are neutral for some individuals may be regarded as threatening by others.
Lazarus and Folkman (1984), 2 of the most representative authors in this field, define coping as follows: constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of a person (p. 141). Contextual and personal factors influence how people appraise life events, which coping strategies they choose to use, and how effective these prove to be. Life stressors and coping resources affect one another.
Coping is not simply a question of knowing what to do, but implies a flexible use of cognitive, social, and behavioral skills in managing situations that are ambiguous, unpredictable, or stressful (Bandura, 1981). In short, coping includes traits, skills, or means, both human and material, that can be used to meet the demands of a situation.
As the term is conceptually broad, various axes of variability have been developed. One of these analyzes coping according to its functionality. The functions of coping are a direct result of the 2 main options that an individual has when faced with a stressful situation: (1) act directly on the situation; or (2) control the emotions which it has generated. The 1 option implies a direct action aimed at eliminating or reducing the demands of the situation and/or increasing one's resources for managing them. This is known as problem-focused coping and makes use of problem-solving strategies that alter the stressful relationship between the individual and the environment. But coping can also aim to regulate the emotional state caused by the stress. This is known as emotion-focused coping and achieved by avoiding the stressor, reevaluating it cognitively and/or attending to positive aspects of oneself and the situation. Both methods of coping may be effective and can be achieved by cognitive or behavioral means. However, some authors argue that problem-focused coping is more effective in situations that the individual believes can be modified whereas emotion-focused coping should be used in situations regarded as difficult or impossible to change (Folkman and Lazarus, 1980; Lazarus and Folkman, 1984).
Following this categorization, Moos (1993) suggested a multidimensional concept of coping on the basis of 2 broad taxonomic axes: the focus of coping and the method of coping. Within the focus there are 2 important relational styles: one is problem-focused, which he calls approach coping, and the other emotion-focused, which he calls avoidance coping. The method also includes 2 categories: cognitive, which implies some kind of internal, mental action to combat stress, and behavioral, which implies some kind of external response.
Although there are several studies which relate coping strategies to various biopsychosocial parameters and specific populations, there is little research on the particular strategies used by young prisoners. That which has been carried out relates coping strategies to different variables of the offender's personality, his degree of psychopathology, his sociocultural environment, characteristics of the prison context, or to different physical illnesses. However, very few studies have analyzed the characteristics of coping strategies in themselves. Moreover, many of these studies rely on the use of unstructured interviews rather than standardized tests to analyze coping strategies, and this makes transcultural comparison difficult. For example, Aday (1994), using a case study approach, argued that elderly inmates use a series of coping strategies including religious activities, denial of the problem, avoiding thinking about the problem, and seeking help from other prisoners. In what we believe to be a controversial article, Rokach (1997) argued that time spent in prison lends itself to reflection and acceptance, as well as religiosity, and that the strategies whose use is most heightened in comparison with the general population are self-development and increasing daily activity. Thies (2000) analysed coping strategies among prisoners with HIV/AIDS using individual interviews. Her research indicates that inmates used emotion-focused coping, especially cognitive processes of avoidance, selective attention and distancing, support mobilization and behavioral strategies.
The aim of this study was to gain a better understanding of the coping strategies of young inmates by administering standardized tests, thus enabling transcultural comparisons to be made. Of particular importance among the few studies which have used questionnaires to evaluate the coping strategies of young prisoners is that of Gullone et al. (2000), who argue that inmates, as a group, use less adaptive coping strategies. As a measure of coping they used the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (Endler and Parker, 1990), which evaluates 3 coping axes: task-oriented coping, emotion-oriented coping, and avoidance-oriented coping. In another study, Zamble and Porporino (1990) showed that prisoners used coping styles characterized by emotional reactivity or avoidance rather than problem-focused coping. Ruchkin et al. (1999), in a study of 178 adolescent offenders aged between 15 and 18, found a greater reliance on both cognitive and behavioral avoidance strategies as compared with a control group.
McKay et al. (1979) found higher levels of stress among the prison population, mainly as a result of inmates being deprived of relationships with the outside world. Another study by Jones (1976) showed that levels of stress among prisoners were 3.6 times higher than in the general adult population of the USA. The same study also demonstrated that stress levels had a covariant relationship with the age of inmates: the highest levels were found in the population under 25 and over 45.
Given the above, the general aim of this study was as follows:
(1) To analyze the kind of coping strategies that are most …