This is not the way it is supposed to be! If it is as you say, patients treated like criminals, you feeling threatened, and actually being hit, then things are not being done the right way. Where I work, there is enough staff support to keep other staff and patients safe. Patients are not to be treated like criminals! That is outrageous! If my environment were like yours, I would want to change it too.
How to change it: Staff education:Respectful Workplace, Non-violent Crisis Intervention, De-escalation Techniques. It will take a while to get attitudes readjusted. Just know in the meantime that you are the one who is right about how patients should be treated. You be the first to make the changes by treating everyone with respect.
You feel threatened because patients are out of control. They are no doubt upset about being treated like criminals. A lot of the irritable edge will resolve when that changes. There are still dangers involved in working with patients who are actively psychotic, or just antisocial. That is why you need staff who are trained in non violent crisis intervention who also know how to take a patient down if they have to without anyone getting hurt. You also have to have plenty of staff available and/or law enforcement standing by. Sometimes when you have to enforce a Treatment Override, you just have to wait until the next shift comes on, and then use the extra staff to get it done.
I am sorry that your foray into psych nursing is going like this for you, but there is a better way to do things, and you are right to be concerned about what is going on around you now.