Detention in prison is mostly about the denial of the right to personal liberty and all that that entails. Socially sanctioned curtailment of rights is, however, so pervasive in the penal system that fundamental human and legal rights are sometimes infringed. As offenders against society, detainees can be treated in many ways as second-class citizens, by the law-enforcement process, the court system and in prisons. An expectation of continuing punishment and deprivation of rights is built in to the system.
An aggravating factor is poor communications between staff and prisoners, the latter being unwilling captives and the former being assigned to maintain the prisoners' state of captivity. These fundamentally different basic aims of the two groups are reinforced by two very different value systems. The inmate culture is both criminal and anti-authoritarian. Its values are so hostile to authority that punishments by those in charge may bestow status on defiant prisoners; rewards may produce suspicion or intimidation from fellow inmates. By contrast, the staff culture is authoritarian and, sometimes without recognizing it, concerned with emphasizing the status superiority of staff over inmates. The two groups tend to be in a complicated state of undeclared warfare, which sometimes results in unreasonable reprimands and retaliations, to the point of prisoners rioting.