Safety rules in a Norwegian high-security prison: The impact of social interaction between prisoners and officers
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionSafety Science. 2022, 149 . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2022.105690
This article explores how prison officers carry out safety rules, drawing on ethnographic data from a Norwegian high-security prison. Taking prisoners’ status as a potential risk as the starting point, it analyses the ways in which social interaction between prison officers and prisoners affects how rules are implemented. Although several safety rules were complied with due to the highly rule-regulated work, the analysis highlight situations where social dynamics resulted in some disturbances to this compliance, when: (1) Situational human dynamics made rules inexpedient in specific situations, resulting in adaption and deviation; (2) Social strain in face-to-face interactions with prisoners made rules strenuous, leading to an avoidance tendency; (3) Human unpredictability made rules stabilising in uncertain situations and seemed to support compliance. Based on the results, it is argued for the importance of understanding and predicting social interaction when standardizing risk assessments through rules, where prison officers need to trade different kinds of considerations against others, rule compliance being only one of several considerations. Prison officers’ situational sensitivity to human dynamics is an important part of safety work in both normal operations and crises, as well as the prison can implement uncertainty-reducing rules in particularly uncertain cases. The study complements existing research on safety rules by providing an ethnographic approach to the real-time use of safety rules within a new context, making interactionist perspectives highly relevant. The possible intersection of the concepts of safety and security are also addressed.