Sociology Seminar 24 October 2011

Dr Odd Lindberg and Dr Anders Bruhn (Örebro University)
Sub Cultural Division among Swedish Prison Officers
(Jointly sponsored by Sociology and the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice)
4.30pm, Room 916, Adam Smith Building

The international trend of mass imprisonment has not yet reached the same levels in the Nordic countries. However, safe custody, risk management and the expansion of security have become issues of high priority also in Sweden. One reason for this is a number of spectacular escapes from high-security prisons in 2004. These were carried out with the use of high levels of violence, heavy armaments, shootings and by using trucks to force gates etc. The media debate that followed was extensive. A political consequence was the appointment of a new Director General of the Prison Services, a highly ranked police officer. The new political directive to the Prison and Probations Service was “no more escapes from high security prisons”. In the aftermath of these escapes, and presumably also because of international influences, security measures in prisons have been tightened considerably. In most closed prisons, new electrified fences and new walls have been erected and new airport-like security checks for incoming staff and visitors have been set up. The number of prison officers specialized in security work has risen. However, at the same time the number of rehabilitation and treatment programmes has increased. A more “scientific” approach to “what works”, usually deeply rooted in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and grounded in evidence-based methods, has been a clear policy development in later years. A scientific board has been set up, to assess the evidence of the treatment programmes. This latter development of “scientification” is partly an international trend, but also very much in line with a Swedish tradition of social engineering. It is also a revival of the individual treatment idea, the paradigm that dominated prior to the radicalisation movement of the seventies with its focus on social relations and contextual factors. In relation to Swedish culture, these programmes are powerful symbols of the Prison and Probation Service as a “rehabilitative” institution. Nowadays though, the individual treatment idea is based on categorizing prisoners into different risk-groups. In closed prisons, the wings have become more specialised – resulting in a division of labour into treatment, regular and specialised security wings. This may be seen as a structural reaction to the dilemma prisons have to handle, enhanced by developments at a political level in later years: the question of security and control versus rehabilitation. But when this kind of division of labour takes place, there is also the risk of sub cultural differentiation within an organisation with the formation of different groups of staff with different approaches to the dilemma and to their occupational roles.

 In the presentation we will discuss how the improvements in security and a concurrent increase in treatment programmes (and a rehabilitation ideal), with a subsequent division of labour into specialised wings, have affected the prison officer’s daily work, especially in relation to the culturally embedded notions of rehabilitation and equality in life chances central to the traditional Scandinavian welfare model. Do prison officers in different kinds of wings think, feel and act differently? Is there a growing “wing rivalry” based on what prison officers in different wings and with different roles assess as their main task? Or, is there, as in many other occupations (police, doctors, military etc.), a certain esprit de corps and feelings of cohesion and community to be found? Is the traditional culture of humane prison conditions at risk in today’s development of Swedish prison policy? Could the personal officers role prevent a more security and control development in the officers daily work? The theoretical concepts used here to catch the cultural aspects of thinking, feeling and acting among prison officers are social representations, emotional labour and interaction rituals.

All Welcome

Supported by the McFie Bequest

Any enquiries about the seminar programme should be addressed to:
Dr Kirsteen Paton, Sociology, Adam Smith Building, University of Glasgow G12 8RT
Tel: 0141 330 5070 or email:

First published: 4 November 2011