The goal of total institutions is resocialization - radically altering residents' personalities through deliberate manipulation of their environment. Resocialization is a two-part process. First, the staff of the institution tries to erode the residents' identities and independence.
Strategies to erode identities include forcing individuals to surrender all personal possessions, get uniform haircuts and wear standardized clothing. Independences is eroded by subjecting residents to humiliating and degrading procedures. Examples are strip searches, fingerprinting and assigning serial numbers or code names to replace the residents' given names. The second part of resocialization process involves the systematic attempt to build a different personality or self. This is generally done through a system of rewards and punishments. The privilege of being allowed to read a book, watch television or make a phone call can be a powerful motivator for conformity. Conformity occurs when individuals change their behaviour to fit in with the expectations of an authority figure or the expectations of the larger group.
No two people respond to resocialization programs in the same manner. While some residents are found to be "rehabilitated", others might become bitter and hostile. As well, over a long period of time, a strictly controlled environment can destroy a person's ability to make decisions and live independently. This is known as institutionalization, this negative outcome of total institution prevents an individual from ever functioning effectively in the outside world again. (Sproule, 154-155)
Resocialization is also evident in individuals who have never been "socialized" in the first place, or who have not been required to behave socially for an extended period of time. Examples include feral children (never socialized) or inmates who have been in solitary confinement.
Socialization is a lifelong process. Adult socialization often includes learning new norms and values that are very different from those associated with the culture in which the person was raised. This process can be voluntary. Currently, joining the military qualifies as an example of voluntary resocialization. The norms and values associated with military life are different from those associated with civilian life. (Riehm, 2000)
Sociologist Erving Goffman studied resocialization in mental institutions. He characterized the mental institution as a total institution--one in which virtually every aspect of the inmates’ lives was controlled by the institution and calculated to serve the institution's goals. For example, the institution requires that patients comply with certain regulations, even when compliance is not necessarily in the best interest of the individual.