Examining The Study On The Slovene Prison System Criminology Essay

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The article presents probably the most relevant research study related to Slovene prison system. The study was made as a two year research project sponsored by Ministry of Justice and carried out by Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. Along with a longitudinal study of social climate in Slovene prison institutions, it evaluates the idea, practice and results of so called socio-therapy as a specific approach to treatment of offenders. "Specific" in this case means that treatment is simultaneously focused on life in prison, the offenders' social environment, prison staff included. Socio-therapy began as a sort of experiment (to put it correctly - a practice) in the midst of seventies and led to astonishing result, namely to the opening of prison institution for almost all inmates regardless the length of sentence or the crime committed. From 1980 on, every five years, social climate in every Slovene prison institution has been measured, proving thus changes of regime, the level of control or helping prisoners, discipline (law and order philosophy) and treatment orientation. Finally, the article deals with the situation after Slovene independence in 1991 and new legislation. The more democracy there seems to be the less possibility exists to treat offenders correctly and by this contribute to the decrease of crime. However, the success of the experiment should encourage all countries that wish to reduce the immense costs of prison surveillance, inmates deprivation, alienation, subculture, prisonization and to make prison institutions more humane.

Keywords: Treatment of Offenders, Open Prison Institutions, Social Climate


Many articles have been published with a clear standpoint, namely a criticism of severe sentencing, inhumane treatment of offenders and overpopulation of prison institutions. Yet very few, almost none, support the idea of transforming a closed institution into an open one. It seems possible only when a careful pre-selection of inmates is carried out.

Our quick review of some influential periodical from the field of penology (The Prison Journal, Probation Journal, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, Punishment & Society, Federal Probation) has shown that recently (in the last few years) there have been no articles that would advocate or present penological ideas and practices equivalent to Slovenian "whole-prison socio-therapeutic" approach.

There are some interesting mechanisms for the reintegration of the person in society while serving a prison sentence - e.g. open prison regime in Spain where convicts spend a few hours a day outside the prison, working or performing rehabilitation-related tasks, and also have leave at weekends (Cid, 2005). Realization of these mechanisms however depends on variety of conditions (for open prison regime prisoners must have completed a quarter or half of the sentence and their re-education prognosis must be positive), therefore - and also for other reasons - these mechanisms don't represent our notion of opening the prisons.

In spite of the fact that the vast majority of authors don't argue for civilizing and opening the prison regimes (especially not in a radical way as we do), we detected some articles that support certain aspects of our standpoint.

In their follow-up study Baumer, O'Donnell, Hughes (2009) found out that those prisoners who were occasionally allowed to venture outside (for vocational or family-related purposes) were significantly less likely to be re-imprisoned. This is one of the clear evidences that maintenance of prisoner's social capital is very important for social reintegration. The potential role of prisoners' families in reducing re-offending is explored also in Mills and Codd (2008). Souryal (2009) is striving after mature and professional performance by enlightened correctional officers who would understand that the more civil the prison is, the more civil, and the less violent, its residents will be. He rejects the traditional belief that most prison inmates detest the universal norms of fairness, dignity, humanity, and can therefore be controlled only by violence.

One (but certainly not sufficient from our point of view) example of normalizing and civilizing the correctional institution is presented by Duncan and Balbar (2008) who explored the outcomes of a voluntary visitation program, focusing on substantial benefits to all included, particularly inmates who benefited from having more contact with the outside world. Hancock and Raeside (2009) found out that release from an open prison environment is associated with reduced reconviction rates.

Relevant for our interest are also articles that investigate how individuals who re-enter society from prison use coping strategies. Phillips and Lindsay (2009) found out that the predominant coping strategy for dealing with re-entry barriers is avoidance of managing problems and emotions and substance abuse relapse, which culminates in recidivism.

We also welcome articles that criticize highly secured »supermax prisons« in USA (such as Pelican Bay), known for their (production of) toughness and violence (Hartman, 2008; King, Steiner, Breach, 2008).

Marsh, Fox and Sarman (2009) suggest that alternative sentences with rehabilitative elements (e.g. prison in combination with educational/vocational interventions, prison in combination with behavioral interventions, prison in combination with sex offender treatment, and prison in combination with drug treatment) reduce re-offending when compared to traditional imprisonment. They reject the hypothesis that prison (on itself) is an effective means of reducing re-offending.

In his follow-up study, Cid (2009) provides additional evidence that (rehabilitative) alternatives to custody are more effective than imprisonment in reducing recidivism. He found out that the offenders given suspended sentences had a significantly lower risk of reconviction than those given (criminogenic) custodial sentences.

We also find the affirmation of our own findings in those articles that explain the (appetite for) excessive punitiveness (Loader, 2009) with features of the contemporary global society - such as structural economic insecurity (Costelloe, Chiricos, Gertz, 2009) and with emotional reactions to these features (e.g. Johnson, 2009).

Last but not least, we should not forget Michael Tonry's "The Future of Imprisonment" (2004). His vision is limited to a "golden cage", since he advocates that "much of a prison life could be reorganized to parallel free world"(Tonry, 2004, p. 15). There is no idea of opening up the prison system. However, the world - especially that of prisoners - would be so much better if a small part of Tonry's vision would come true.

But in spite of all skepticism and lack of experience Slovenia succeeded in opening of a formerly closed prison institution. There was no pre-selection of inmates; the only pre-selection was that of the team in charge to run the institution. The experiment proved that the fear of prisoners is much exaggerated and that this example could and should be followed in other prison institutions. Furthermore, the recidivism of prisoners serving the sentence in that institution fell down to 20%, while the average in other institutions was 60%.

Finally, it became clear that the opening of a prison institution depends much more on personnel than on inmates.

Could this be a message to prison systems all over the world?

Starting permissiveness in juvenile correctional institution

From 1967 to 1971 a group of experts led by Katja Vodopivec, director of the Institute of Criminology, conducted an experiment in juvenile correctional institution nearby Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.

The basic idea of the experiment was to prove that it was possible to treat juvenile offenders with much more permissiveness as they had been treated so far. Permissiveness, furthermore, does not endanger society more that repression does. Group counseling was one of the important methods to prove the hypothesis and used to foster more acceptable behavior patterns among young offenders and personnel as well.

The results after four years were:

The permissive approach in the treatment allowed juveniles to behave more spontaneously, the number of escapes from institution increased while the extent of crime committed during escapes decreased. Juveniles were mostly returning back without police intervention.

Personal characteristics of staff were more important than formal education.

Group counseling proved to be efficient method of work in the institution

Social climate in the institution improved (Vodopivec, 1974, p. 219-220)

The experiment was conducted as a research project of the Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana and internationally supervised by Eugene S. Jones (Ibid., p. 249).

Experiment in the closed prison institution

In the mid seventies' a group of Slovene penologists within the Ministry of Justice started with an experiment that should lead to the improvement of social climate conditions in a closed prison institution.

Theoretical starting points

The experiment was grounded on basic principles of humanistic psychology and penology. While the first one is represented for instance by Maslow and Rogers, the most important name in the world of humanistic penology seems to be Norman Fenton.

Fenton's work in the field of penology and corrections (A handbook on the use of group counseling in correctional institutions) emphasizes the importance of constructive group interaction characterized by:

creation of an environment that provides for free discussion and the acceptance of the delinquent as he is;

acknowledgment by delinquents of the significance of emotional conflicts and how it may foster criminal activity;

improvement of the emotional climate in the institution;

treatment by means of constructive interpersonal relationships.

Experiment in action

To put it correctly, not all necessary conditions were fulfilled to call it an experiment. It was more introducing of specific attitude towards inmates, mostly democratization of the institution.

In presenting this idea the experiment gained political support (Parliament, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice), media support and also there was not opposition from public opinion.

It was necessary to focus on an institution that would fulfill several conditions. First, the number of inmates should not exceed one hundred. Furthermore, there should be no pre-selection of prisoners with regard to any category concerning criminal activity (first time offenders, re-offenders, nature of crime and length of sentence). Also, the personnel, especially the warden, should favor the idea of reintegration of prisoners and of opening up the institution that has so far been a closed one and with a rather severe regime. Leading personnel should advocate a non-authoritarian attitude, yet being brave when deciding on problematic issues.

Bearing in mind all the conditions to be fulfilled, a prison institution with sixty inmates and thirty members of staff, situated 10 miles from Ljubljana the Slovene capital, was chosen.

The goals of the experiment were rather vague on the beginning. Nobody knew exactly what changes may occur. However, everybody expected at least an improvement of social and emotional climate in the institution.

Starting with group work, according to Fenton, the inmates were divided into four groups, each one led by a therapist (a therapist not in a sense of psychiatry but in a sense of an expert capable of leading a group where dynamic psychological processes occur). The role of therapist was given to a psychologist, two educators and a social worker, all of them having obtained formal skills through sensitivity trainings. Groups were heterogeneous (with regard to criminal categories) and meetings were regular, once a week at the same time and in the same place.

Group therapist later on described all sorts of fear and distress. They were, for instance, afraid of loosing authority, they feared from unexpected situations and eventual aggression of the group. They were convinced that it was much easier to cope with an aggressive individual compared to an aggressive group. Furthermore, they were skeptical about their own knowledge and were aware of the lack of experience. Also, the goals - beside the improvement of the social climate - were not very clear and expectations might have been too high. Among other staff, not directly included in the group work, a fear from unknown appeared including feeling of a threatening anarchy.

On the other hand, the inmates were at first rejecting the idea of solving problems within a group. Therefore, most of discussions were about house order, discipline and cleaning. Later on, conflict situations emerged causing major problems to the therapist who was faced with criticism on his behalf. Each therapist had to accept changes to his own behavior as well as inmates being expected to accommodate their aggressive behavior. What is important to emphasize is that there was no consequence whatsoever for the inmates when presenting their criticism, regardless the improper way of behavior at the group meetings. This was a pre-condition of creating a mutual trust and confidence.

After a certain period of group work the topics slowly began to change. Problems of house order were replaced by discussions about benefits, mostly free leave. Groups were not in a position to decide upon free leave but could suggest it to the expert team. The more their suggestions were accepted, the more inmates felt that they could decide upon a significant part of their lives.

Once a week all the inmates and all personnel gathered in a "community meeting" where some problems that could not be solved in small groups were opened to a broad discussion before a final decision. In the course of time, a system of shared decision-making process was being established, where inmates felt that they had power - although "de facto" only and not "de iure" - to decide upon important issues regarding their life in prison and outside as well. Later on, when mutual trust increased, even conditional release was subject to an open discussion.

Each community meeting was followed by an exhaustive discussion of expert team (warden, psychologist, educators, social workers, nurse, representative of guard, instructors in production units), where important events during the meeting were re-examined. However, decisions that were adopted at community meetings have never been changed at the experts' meetings.

The first major problem to be resolved was the basic distrust regarding the prisoners and their ability and willingness to discuss problems objectively and to propose rational solutions. Even major problems were with the personnel. Many of them felt a loss of authority and traditional power over prisoners. All of a sudden they were faced with criticism from prisoners and they had to change many traditional authoritarian behavior patterns. Some of the personnel could not accept this new position and left the institution, fortunately only few.

Slowly, a traditional closed institution turned into an open one. This meant different things. First, a hierarchic model of communication was substituted by a horizontal one. To achieve this it was necessary to establish a good cooperation with all services within a prison institution - psychologists, educators, doctors, guard etc. They also shared all information regarding any decision brought about and concerning inmates. Furthermore, even more important, it meant that within two years from starting with this experiment, 90% of inmates enjoyed the privilege of an open regime. They used to leave the institution on Friday afternoon and came back on Sunday evening. To emphasize once again, there was no difference or whatsoever with regard to the nature of the crime committed or the length of the sentence. Also, there were very few inmates who abused the privilege in a way that they would not return in time or even escape or that they would commit a new crime when temporarily at large. Disciplinary sanctions were out of use for the next 15 years, till the beginning of the nineties'.

A follow up project has been measuring the social climate in the Slovene prison institutions since 1980. It shows, for instance, how much of control inmates feel, how do they find demands for order and discipline, how are their personal problems being resolved, is there a rehabilitation in prison, how inmates are being helped when necessary etc. A very similar inquiry is made for the personnel.

In 1980, a social climate among inmates in this prison institution was higher compared to a climate in most Slovene penal institutions among personnel! Unnecessary to mention, that it was far the highest regarding the inmates in Slovene prison institutions.

The experiment proved that it is unnecessary to establish prison institutions with a predominantly severe regime. It will always be necessary to keep secure some prisoners for being dangerous, but their number does not exceed 10 to 20%. (We have to admit that this figure might be higher considering the increase of prisoners with addiction problems, but still not as high as we used to think and to react in practice).

Besides the change in social climate (inmates and staff), there were many practical consequences, including many parts of "society at large" (centres for social work, companies, employment agencies as well as inmates' families and friends) the prison institution succeeded to ensure jobs for more than 80% of inmates immediately after having served their sentences or being conditionally released. Many of the inmates were employed in companies outside the prison institution while serving sentences. Some of them continued to work regularly after release at the same companies.

The recidivism rate (let us emphasize, how carefully one should interpret these figures without making a simple correlation between prison rehabilitation success and recidivism) in this prison decreased to 20%, while the average number in other Slovene prison institutions was 60%.

The approach described was known as a socio-therapy, which means that it has avoided traditional psychiatric interventions or medical ideas in general. It focuses on psychodynamic processes that occur within the small groups, larger communities (therapeutic community) and involves a number of outer factors that influence the prisoner after the release. Those outer factors (family, friends, relatives, companies where prisoners were employed before they came to prison etc.) were included in so called "after care" the very moment prisoners begun to serve their sentence and not only a few weeks before the release of a prisoner was expected. This was one of the most important ideas of socio-therapy that brought about including the "society at large" in the process of rehabilitation already when the serving of the sentence had begun.

In 1991 an important change occurred. The warden who was there from the very beginning of the experiment (later on, that was no more an experiment but a daily practice) retired. She was substituted with a young psychologist with good knowledge but with a definite lack of personal traits necessary to run an institution the same way it had been run for fifteen years. Quickly, the prison turned into a closed one, while the latest measurements of social climate (2000) proved that it in fact could not be much worse, be it inmates or personnel. The prison again became a traditional totalitarian institution where no abuse of human rights occurs but neither a reintegration of inmates to the society can be expected in the same way and in the same extent as previously. (Brinc & Petrovec, 2001)

To conclude with the most important data relating to the experiment that has for years turned into penal practice within a few Slovene correctional institutions. Three basic conditions were fulfilled beyond Fenton's basic principles:

political support of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior and later on Parliament adopting basic principles of socio-therapy as an official penological concept within crime policy

support of the mass media that contributed to understanding of rehabilitation of inmates

support of the local community especially where prisoners were being included (work, visits of families, medical treatment)

To summarize the most important elements of the success the following should be emphasized:

to trust in what is good in human person and to support it

to have courage to look into oneself before treating prisoners

to abstain from use and abuse of power over inmates.

The experiment was carefully examined and revaluated, socio-therapy as ideology and practice included, in a research study twenty five years after the beginning (Petrovec, 1999).

Some changes in the treatment ideology and practice brought about by socio-therapy

The difference between "contra legem" and "praeter legem"

The results encouraged many changes in the treatment of delinquents. The prison bureaucracy became familiar with the legal principles as for instance, the difference between "contra legem" and "praeter legem".

Advocates of law and order would always oppose the prisoners to be given more benefits as defined by the statute. If it was regulated that inmates in the open regime are granted two free leaves per months, it was considered to be against the law if they would be given for example three. They could not accept it as a practice "beyond the law" which makes the law more civilized and just.

Introducing more benefits brought about understanding of a new concept which is not against the law but fosters new more humane solutions "de lege ferenda". Slowly, the practice turned into new legislation, allowing four free leaves per week for all prisoners in the open regime.

Slowly but steadily, some disciplinary measures disappeared from the penal armory (isolation, deprivation of visits).

New concept of social control

Prison institution functions as a means of a strong social control. In fact, it is not but a wish of those who want to control other people. Every dictatorial political system has had a lot of experience with controlling people. However, people always behave according to what they expect. Therefore it has always been very close to what is called a "treatment game". Everybody pretends to be something different as he is. The controller pretends not to control and people behave the way they expect the controller to be satisfied.

Socio-therapy leads to throwing off the masks. It demands direct communication and fair dialogue. If we want to re-educate, to treat, to advise we have to get to know. If we want to get to know, we have to permit people to behave freely. Therefore, if we want to know anything about people, they must be free.

That the crucial and inevitable disappointment of all traditional controlling systems, being not aware that only freedom makes the best possible control (Petrovec, 1987).

The principles of socio-therapy demand a fair reaction to inappropriate behavior. It should be never treated with repression but should neither be neglected.

The role and position of the victim

In the prison treatment programs the victim was more or less ignored. In the nineties the concept of restorative justice opened new dimensions towards helping victims of crime. Yet, in a narrow vision of a treatment there was no place for victim compensation. Restorative justice could be interpreted as a response to the conflict between retributive and treatment ideology (Bošnjak, 1999, p. 6).

However, the concept of socio-therapy offered and established a much wider approach to victim compensation. Most of prisoners agreed to monthly paying of a fair amount of money to compensate victim's damage. Perhaps, it was a bargain. Prisoners were rewarded for such behavior mostly with conditional release. However, as a side effect, knowledge has been established, step by step, about right and wrong. Furthermore, no court could impose prisoners to pay as their earnings were not subject to seizure. Therefore, the prisoners acted out of a free will as well.

Since most of the prisoners were given free leaves, there was a possibility that they meet and have contacts with their victims. In many cases, though not in all of them, it led to more constructive interpersonal relation.

The meaning of "socio-therapy"

As the prisoners were granted free leaves it was necessary to prepare not only them but also their social environment to their "come-back". Therapy was focused therefore on their families where many conflicts came from; it was focused on the working environment with the aim to accept the person back to work where he or she had worked before; furthermore, it was focused on his social environment as a representative of a smaller part of public opinion. A clear message was conveyed to all parts of society: "A prisoners is worth of trust if he is granted free leave or given job outside prison institution or conditionally released." Since 80 to 90 per cent of inmates in this prison institution were given open regime, this message proved out to be justified in so many cases that public opinion in general supported crime policy as created by socio-therapy.

Vulnerability of socio-therapeutic approach

The size of a penal institution

Group counseling as provided for within socio-therapeutic treatment is carried out in small groups not exceeding 15 persons. Besides working in small groups, regular meetings of all prisoners and personnel are necessary. Good communication is possible only in prison institutions where the total number of inmates does not exceed 100. Therefore, no prison institutions with hundreds of inmates are suitable for such a communication/treatment model.

The need of supervision

Once established and implemented for years, the model still preserves fragility. The experts did not believe that after such a success and 15 year experience of opening up the prison and keeping it open, it would go back to the "stone age" of Slovenian penology. Yet it happened. The lack of supervision was one of the reasons, the second one, proving vulnerability was the change of personnel. Finally, there was no any supervisor more to share and represent the same ideas that led to humane prison regime. Just desert philosophy swept away all enthusiastic endeavors and its' advocates. (Petrovec, 1999, p. 121)

Susceptibility of society to socio-therapy

As the new treatment approach brought about so many advantages compared to "classical penology" one could justifiably put a question - why could not we simply "copy and paste" this experiment? Actually, no impediments exist but within ourselves who have power. That is why only one Grendon existed in England as well as only one Slovene prison institution and so few of them all over the world. It does not mean that it could not be multiplied. It only proves that the state authority tolerates only a limited quantity of freedom regarding social margin. No more and no less than it could be used as a parade-horse for a self-praise of a supposedly democratic and civilized society. Anything, surpassing this small quantity would threaten the centre of social power.

We have experience and proofs that this model of prison and rehabilitation system works. The use of it is free of charge, there is no "copyright", legal protection of patent or whatsoever. It is so simple to understand, yet so difficult to implement. It is not a question of intellect, it is a question of personal or personality traits. An honest and sincere introspection proves that we do not want things to work, because in that case we should change at first, not prisoners - this is definitely not susceptible, it looks almost as a blasphemy.

Weak points of socio-therapy

Socio-therapy is not a panacea. Some groups of delinquents are resistant to it. First, it does not have good enough results with drug-addicts. Addiction is stronger than rehabilitation efforts and once in an open regime, many delinquents do not abstain from drugs. More promising is treatment within hospitals which differs from the prison one.

The second group, with less success, are delinquents with serious personal disorders as for example some sex offenders or cool-blooded murderers. However, there always exists a group of prisoners who have to be in more secure systems. Yet, their number is much smaller than it is usually considered. According to Slovenian experience it does not exceed 20 per cent.

Measuring social climate in prison institutions

Whatever names are being given to the different treatment models, whatever "therapy" is carried out, we still hardly know what is going on behind the prison walls. Assessing social climate lights up what usually remains in dark.

The first research of social climate in Slovene prison institutions was carried out in 1980, five years after the beginning of experiment, and has been continued till nowadays, the last measuring in 2000.

There are nine categories to assess social climate:

Involvement (social interaction in the day-to day functioning of the program)

Support (how supporting the staff is towards inmates and inmates among themselves)

Expressiveness (possibility of open expression of feelings)

Autonomy (encouraging inmates to plan activities)

Practical orientation (preparing for release)

Personal problem orientation

Order and organization (how important it is and how does personnel encourage it)

Clarity (how explicit the program rules are and if inmates know what to expect)

Staff control (measures by which the staff control inmates). (Wenk & Moos, 1972)

Five years after beginning the experiment and introducing the principles of socio-therapy the results were following:

Measuring of social climates in 1980

Ig (experimental institution - 80 inmates)

Dob (the largest prison institution in Slovenia - 800 inmates)

Ljubljana (250 inmates)

[Insert Table 1]

[Insert Figure 1]

Graph 1 illustrates the difference in support as perceived by inmates in three prison institutions - the first one in Ig.

[Insert Figure 2]

In Graph 2 there is a clear difference in preparing inmates for their life after imprisonment. It also reflects the difference in recidivism (20% in the first institution and 60% in the other two institutions).

[Insert Figure 3]

According to the inmates, those regimes characterized by low levels of staff control had better social climates. Staff control as perceived in Ig was only half as severe as in other two institutions.

[Insert Table 2]

[Insert Figure 4]

[Insert Figure 5]

[Insert Figure 6]

The picture clearly shows the decrease of the best possible practice in penal institution. The changes in 1991 (new leadership in the prison institution, law and order orientation, retreat of treatment ideology) led to a prevailingly closed institution with a social climate that does not differ from other closed institutions in 1980. For example - feeling ob being controlled is higher in Ig in 2000 (6.8) as there was in the maximum security prison (Dob) in 1980 (6.4).

The grounds for decline of socio-therapy

When we refer to the death of treatment ideology we should ask ourselves - was it ever alive?

It would be unfair to charge Martinson with the responsibility for the beginning of the end of treatment ideology although he is the most oft-repeated name in this connection. His famous question »What works?", and confident reply »Nothing« sent shock waves through penal philosophy (Martinson, 1974).

Yet it seems that he merely triggered an avalanche that had been building up for years. In what was already a tense atmosphere of heated public and political opinion, all that was needed was a relatively weak impetus to turn it into a destructive force.

The criticism of treatment ideology was justified from several aspects. Morris stressed basic human rights, meaning that even in the name of protection of society we may not resort to unlimited means against a convicted person as for instance sentences linked to the success of treatment (Morris, 1974, p. 83).

More effective than stressing the human right to personal integrity, which was being eroded by medical and psychological interventions, was Martinson's referral to the inefficiency of treatment models. »Nothing works« in reality meant that in spite of all the efforts to change the human personality, crime was growing from one day to the next. All those, obsessed with the efficiency, could not be handed a better argument against treatment. And for them, learning the figures of recidivism and crime in general was the last nail in the coffin of rehabilitation philosophy and practice.

But to conclude that treatment is dead would be premature. Some criminologists have, with good reason, argued that, with few exceptions, it has not even been born yet. During the golden age of treatment ideology, Jessica Mitford made a study of conditions in American prisons. Her four year study (1970 - 1973) showed that the majority of prisons exercised complete censorship; letters sent to prisoners were rejected; breaches in discipline resulted in exemplary penalties and denouncing was rewarded; punishment for criminal offences committed in prison was pronounced without judicial procedure; and prisoners could not sue anyone for damage inflicted on them in prison (Mitford, 1974). For this reason Weigend's observation that there was little earnest intention to implement the treatment idea should be taken quite seriously (Weigend, 1983).

Yet, the situation in Slovene prison institutions was different. It was proved that "It Works" and that rehabilitation ideology and practice are alive. It worked, if we take the following criteria as a proof of efficiency:

The social climate in the experimental prison institution was more than favorable

Socio-therapy led to opening up of a formerly closed institution regardless the length of the sentence and the nature of crime committed

The recidivism rate was 20 per cent while in other institutions it kept the level around 60%

Public opinion accepted new approach in treatment practice

Socio-therapy was adopted as an official doctrine

Treatment encompassed all vital parts of society - delinquent's family, friends, social and working environment

Socio-therapy was the less expensive treatment

What went wrong after 1991?

Slovenia became independent, the political regime changed and the times of democracy came all of a sudden. The old regime sponsored and supported humanization of prison system since seventies' and criticizing it openly by showing aggression towards delinquents would be risky.

The new regime brought freedom with all the side effects of it. Freedom meant mostly open mass media aggression towards social margin. The free market society brought about social stratification and a large group of people living in poverty. The situation for unprivileged minorities (delinquents, drug-addicts, Roma people, ex-Yugoslav citizens etc.) became unpromising. Politicians of new regime know everything about punishment and experts are strictly excluded from having any influence on creating of crime policy or preparing legislation.

The consequences of such understanding of democracy and freedom were for instance increase of maximum penalty in Criminal Code from 20 to 30 years, decrease of alternative sanctions, introducing of harsher regimes in penal institutions and increase in prison population for 100 per cent from 1995 to 2000.

Furthermore, the legacy of socio-therapy was overestimated. Although successful, it was easily substituted with law and order philosophy and practice. It looks that human tendency towards domination instead of cooperation is far the strongest one.


To prevent the decline of socio-therapy a constant supervision of treatment oriented experts is needed; furthermore, it should be established as a principal social doctrine. Finally, no implementation of such an idea is possible unless a certain level of civilization within a society is being achieved.

To come to this point, we should go "back to the future". There is no future in what is being presented nowadays as crime policy. "Today" becomes a stone age of punishment, be it sentencing or imprisonment. Is there always a catastrophe needed to come out of the ruins with a new hope for humanity? No system is endangered by crime so much as it is by our response to it.

The results of Slovenian experiment which turned into practice should encourage all those involved in corrections. In particular, it should be welcomed in countries as USA where situation in prisons has become critical. Opening prison institutions reduces immense costs of surveillance but, on the other hand, demands a lot of specific investment - trust in what is good in human person and establishing of good interpersonal relations, both inexpensive but very demanding.

Table 1. Measuring of social climates in 1980

Ig Dob Ljubljana

Support 8.0 2.7 3.5

Expressiveness 6.2 3.0 3.0

Practical orientation 8.0 3.0 3.0

Clarity 8.2 3.6 3.8

Staff control 3.7 6.4 6.1

(Brinc & Petrovec; 2001, p. 141)

Figure 1. Support

Figure 2. Practical orientation - preparing for release

Figure 3. Staff control

Table 2. Changes in Ig from 1980 to 2000

Ig: Support Express. Pract.or. Clarity Control

1980 8.0 6.2 8.0 8.2 3.7

1985 7.1 6.3 7.1 8.6 3.7

1995 5.0 4.5 5.2 5.6 5.5

2000 3.8 3.4 4.5 4.2 6.8

(Brinc & Petrovec; 2001, p. 141)

Figure 4. Support

Figure 5. Practical orientation

Figure 6. Control