Prison Conditions

It is well known that most prisons are places with a high stress level. Among both prison staff and prisoners this stress can manifest directly, such as in aggression, depression, unalertness, burn-out and stress-related illnesses, but also indirectly in addictions or deterioration of interpersonal relations. The staff in prisons is expected to work professionally, with a sense of responsibility and reliability and with a decent and humane attitude. Stressful working conditions, however, can undermine such well functioning. In extreme cases, they can also lead to a higher degree of absence among personnel, a factor that increases the pressure on the personnel that remains active. The effect of stress in our personal lives and in our work place is often underestimated.

Apart from “the natural stress level” which is characteristic of prisons, the common situation of overpopulation in many prisons in the world leads to extra stress and tension, both for overburdened prison staff and the prisoners themselves.

In many prisons the constitution of the population is changing rapidly and the big cultural and linguistic diversity brings with it new and specific challenges with regard to coexistence in a penitentiary institution.

In certain prisons one can also observe an increase in the number of prisoners with medical and psychological problems.

These challenges add to the problems of the harm resulting from the daily life in a penitentiary institution.

In addition, also the use of drugs in prisons is a point of serious attention.

Violence in Society

Many societies in Europe witness an increase of various forms of violence: physical, psychological, cultural, religious, sexual, and others. Globalized communication makes us more aware of the violence that is committed in various corners of our world, from the domestic to the social, regional and national levels. Previously peaceful neighbourhoods and communities are shaken by sudden shooting attacks, teenagers start committing their first crimes and murders at ever younger age, innocent civilians are attacked for no reason at all or on the basis of race or religion, not to speak about domestic violence, drug-related violence, xenophobia and racism, Islamophobia, mafia-related violence, or exclusive ideologies.

On the other hand, an increasing number of people in Europe is suffering from depression and burn out, and some countries are confronted with a very high level of suicides. The “hardening of society” is probably one of the biggest challenges today. A proper response requires a multi-dimensional approach which deals with both the outer and inner aspects of this phenomenon.