9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 Crime Building I, 2E2

A changing balance between risk management and rehabilitation? A discourse analysis of prison regimes in Switzerland since 1970

Punitiveness and security have become defining features of many Western criminal justice systems since the 1970s (Garland 2001). In the field of corrections, Feeley and Simon (1992) posit the development of a «new penology» centred on the management of risks rather than on rehabilitation or punishment as a moral imperative. «Management» suggests that the reformation of offenders is considered to be unlikely, thus discharging state agencies of responsibility for recidivism. In a seeming paradox, therapeutic instruments continue to be employed in correctional settings. They are, however, increasingly based on rationalities of choice, transferring the responsibility for success to offenders and ignoring structural conditions of (criminal) action (Krasmann 2000, Moore and Hannah-Moffat 2005).
In Switzerland similar demands for increased punitiveness and security have repeatedly received popular support at the ballot box in recent years, e.g. the introduction of mandatory life-long imprisonment for certain sexual offenders. One could thus expect to find a weakening of the rehabilitative ideal in the corrections system. Rehabilitation, however, still figures prominently as a central objective of imprisonment in Swiss criminal law and in prison officers' descriptions of prison regimes.
This paper asks how the balance between risk management and rehabilitation has changed in Swiss correctional institutions. To that end, a qualitative analysis of internal prison documents from several decades such as staff regulations and minutes of staff meetings has been done. The analysis reconstructs discourse and discursive practices concerning rehabilitation, responsibility and risk. We analyze how risks are framed and related to rehabilitative efforts as well as how criminological conceptions and particularly concepts of the offender have developed.
First results show that a considerable commitment and allocation of resources to rehabilitation can be found throughout the period. Rehabilitative practices in a broad sense have, however, been criticised or modified based on changing perceptions of risk. Officers and prison administrations decisions concerning risk are in part based on a system of classification in which nationality has become an important dimension. The defining trend seems to be the increasing emphasis being placed on the offender's responsibility for the success of rehabilitation, thus subtly changing the meaning of rehabilitation.