Influence of Criminal Subculture on the Management of a Penitentiary Institution

10 Sep, 2020
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Research authors
Gavin Slade – Research of International Practice;
Anton (Tato) Kelbakiani and Natalia Tsagareli – Research of local practice, development of conclusions and recommendations;
SociologistIago Kachkachishvili – Development of a qualitative research tool


Public and policy-makers often have differing views concerning the penitentiary system. With the exception of a small group of specialists and practitioners, not many understand clearly how the penitentiary system works. Penitentiary institutions are a closed environment that leads to a heterogeneous moral and emotional climate, causing the formation of different social orders within the system. As a rule, the social order is formed by the institutional culture of the penitentiary institutions and its coexistence with the criminal subculture of the penitentiary system. Recently, when talking about the issues concerning the penitentiary system, very often, the subculture within the system and its influence on the functioning of the administration is mentioned. Reports from both local (National Prevention Mechanism) and international (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture) organizations indicate that in Georgian penitentiary institutions among prisoners are established informal hierarchies, where privileged prisoners are influencing both prisoners and the normal functioning of the institution. Besides, the same reports highlighted that the criminal subculture is one of the main sources of violence among prisoners. The transfer of the informal authority to prisoners may establish an illegitimate power that they use quite effectively by dint of the subculture within their environment. Insufficient use of legitimate measures by the administration can be as dangerous as the abuse of power if it leads to a regime where there are insufficient oversight and disorder. Finding the right balance between excessive force and the rule of law is the main task of the penitentiary administration (Sparks et al., 1996). This is an ethical, managerial, and personal challenge for those who run penitentiary institutions as they need to find the right balance between establishing an order in the institutions and treating prisoners with respect and legitimacy… The analysis of the recent history of Georgia shows there were only two models of management of the penitentiary system, which can be characterized as follows: a) management of penitentiary institutions by using elements of the criminal subculture; b) Management and control of the penitentiary system by the administration of institutions, albeit using such methods when human rights have been systematically violated. So far, the Georgian penitentiary system has failed to establish a system that balances security and human rights. The main concern is that, yet, not fully is understood if what a phenomenon this form of criminal subculture is, what it feeds on and how it maintains its impact on the functioning of penitentiary institutions. Thus, to identify its basis, it is important to answer the questions – what is the reason, and how large are these problems? Therefore, for establishing the evidence-based approaches, it is important to conduct a study on the impact of the criminal subculture on the management of the penitentiary institution.