Reason in prison: how emergencies are managed in the Italian penitentiary context

Giulia Lausi, Jessica Burrai, Michela Baldi, Maria Luisa Farnese, Roberto Pandolfi, Anna Maria Giannini, Emanuela Mari


Purpose: The prison system is a complex structure in which staff members monitor the prison population with the aim of preventing and coping with possible emergency events. To examine how prison staff conceive plans to manage these events, the present study focuses on the qualitative analysis of critical events and the related coping strategies and conclusions drawn from each episode.

Method: By drawing on 563 narrative forms completed by prison directors and prison officer commanders from all over Italian prisons, four coding families have been identified (the emergency event itself, strategies adopted to manage this event, knowledge gained from this event, and possible improvements to prevent future emergency events) as well as specific categories for each of them. Frequency and chi-square analyses were conducted to identify the differences in occurrences in each coding family and among categories for the type of emergency event.

Results: The findings revealed significant differences both in the occurrence of different types of emergency events and in the way each type of event is managed, as well as in the specific knowledge gained from the experienced event and possible improvements to prevent future emergency events.

Conclusions: According to the data collected, it seems fair to assume that the management of emergencies in prisons is not a problem that concerns a linear mode of intervention but includes several factors—personal, structural, procedural, and relational factors—which together influence the effectiveness of coping with emergencies. The results have been discussed according to the relevant literature on the topic.


Management strategies; Justice; Error management; Prison emergencies; Emergency event; Prison staff.

Full Text:



Babcock, J. C., Tharp, A. L., Sharp, C., Heppner, W., & Stanford, M. S. (2014). Similarities and differences in impulsive/premeditated and reactive/proactive bimodal classifications of aggression. Aggression and violent behavior, 19(3), 251-262.

Baillargeon, J., Hoge, S. K., & Penn, J. V. (2010). Addressing the challenge of community reentry among released inmates with serious mental illness. American journal of community psychology, 46(3), 361-375.

Barling, J., Kelloway, E.K., & Frone, M.L. (2005). Handbook of Work Stress. SAGE

Beckford, J., Joly, D., & Khosrokhavar, F. (2005). Muslims in Prison: Challenge and Change in Britain and France. Palgrave Macmillan

Begun, A. L., Early, T. J., & Hodge, A. (2016). Mental health and substance abuse service engagement by men and women during community reentry following incarceration. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 43(2), 207-218.

Bennett, L. & Dyson, J. (2014). Deliberate self-harm among adults in prisons. Mental Health Practice, 18(1), 14-20.

Biggs, M. (2007). The Rationality of Self-Inflicted Sufferings: Hunger Strikes by Irish Republicans, 1916–1923. Sociology Working Papers, 2007-03.

Blaauw, E., Roesch, R., & Kerkhof, A. (2000). Mental disorders in European prison systems: Arrangements for mentally disordered prisoners in the prison systems of 13 European countries. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 23(5-6), 649-663

Boles, S. M., & Miotto, K. (2003). Substance abuse and violence: A review of the literature. Aggression and violent behavior, 8(2), 155-174.

Bonner, R. L. (2000). Correctional suicide prevention in the year 2000 and beyond. Suicide and LifeThreatening Behavior, 30(4), 370-376. Available from:

Bosworth, M., Campbell, D., Demby, B., Ferranti, S.M. & Santos, M. (2005). Doing prison research: Views from inside. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(2), 249-264

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Bruno, A., Muscatello, M. R. A., Pangallo, N., & Zoccali, R. A. (2018). Comment on: Psychopathology and female detention at the “Pagliarelli” jail of Palermo: preliminary results. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 6(3).

Buentello, S., Fong, R.S. & Vogel, R.E. (1991). Prison gang development: A theoretical model. Prison Journal 71(2), 3-14

Buffa, P. (2011). Il suicidio in carcere: diffondere la riflessione per migliorare la prevenzione in. La prevenzione dei suicidi in carcere, contributi per la conoscenza del fenomeno.

Cima, M., Smeets, T., & Jelicic, M. (2008). Self-reported trauma, cortisol levels, and aggression in psychopathic and non-psychopathic prison inmates. Biological psychology, 78(1), 75-86.

Cloward R.A (1960). Theoretical studies in social organization of the prison (Vol. 15). Kraus Reprint. Company.

Cloyes, K. G., Wong, B., Latimer, S., & Abarca, J. (2010). Women, serious mental illness and recidivism: A gender‐based analysis of recidivism risk for women with SMI released from prison. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 6(1), 3-14.

Copes, H., Beaton, B., Ayeni, D., Dabney, D., & Tewksbury, R. (2020). A content analysis of qualitative research published in top criminology and criminal justice journals from 2010 to 2019. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 1-20.

Council of Europe (2014). Restorative justice in prisons: Methods, approaches and effectiveness. European Committee on Crime Problems.

Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (2018).

Crewe, B., Warr, J., Bennett, P., & Smith, A. (2014). The emotional geography of prison life. Theoretical Criminology, 18(1), 56-74.

Dabney, D. (2010). Observations regarding key operational realities in a Compstat model of policing. Justice Quarterly, 27(1), 28-51.

DiIulio, J. (1987). Governing prisons: A comparative study of correctional management. The Free Press.

Dikötter, F., & Brown, I. (Eds.). (2018). Cultures of confinement: a history of the prison in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Cornell University Press.

Dowden, C., & Tellier, C. (2004). Predicting work-related stress in correctional officers: A meta-analysis. Journal of Criminal Justice, 32, 31-47

Facer-Irwin, E., Blackwood, N. J., Bird, A., Dickson, H., McGlade, D., Alves-Costa, F., & MacManus, D. (2019). PTSD in prison settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of comorbid mental disorders and problematic behaviours. PLoS one, 14(9), e0222407.

Farnese, M.L., Barbieri, B., Bellò, B., & Bartone, P.T. (2017). Don’t abandon hope all ye who enter here: the protective role of formal mentoring and learning processes on burnout in correctional officers. Work, 58(3), 319-331. https://doi:10.3233/WOR-172628.

Farnese, M.L., Fida, R., & Picoco, M. (2020). Error orientation at work: Dimensionality and relationships with errors and organizational cultural factors. Current Psychology, 1-20.

Farnese, M.L., Livi, S., Barbieri, B., & Schalk, R. (2018). “You can see how things will end by the way they begin”: The contribution of early mutual obligations for the development of the psychological contract. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 543.

Ferraro, L., Nuzzo, M. C., Sideli, L., Maniaci, G., Capri, C. A., La Barbera, D., & La Cascia, C. (2018). Psychopathology and female detention at the “Pagliarelli” jail of Palermo: preliminary results. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 6(2)

Flanagan, J.C. (1954). The critical incident technique. Psychological Bulletin, 51(4), 327–358.

Fox, S., Spector, P., E., & Miles, D. (2001). Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB) in response to job stressors and organizational justice: Some mediator and moderator tests for autonomy and emotions. Journal of Vocational Behavior (59)3, 291-309.

Frese, M., & Keith, N. (2015). Action errors, error management, and learning in organizations. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 661-687. https://10.1146/annurev-psych-010814-015205

Frisone, F. (2021). problem gambling in phenomenological psychopathology. International Gambling Studies, 21(3), 537-541.

Ghaddar, A., Mateo, I., & Sanchez, P. (2008). Occupational stress and mental health among correctional officers: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Occupational Health, 50, 92-98.

Gottfredson, D. C., Kearley, B. W., & Bushway, S. D. (2008). Substance use, drug treatment, and crime: An examination of intra-individual variation in a drug court population. Journal of Drug Issues, 38(2), 601-630.

Gould, D.D., Watson, S.L., Price, S.R., & Valliant, P.M. (2013). The relationship between burnout and coping in adult and young offender center correctional officers: An exploratory investigation. Psychological Services, 10, 37-47.

Gundur, R.V. (2018). The changing social organization of prison protection markets: When prisoners choose to organize horizontally rather than vertically. Trends Organ Crim.

Harrell, E. (2011). Workplace violence, 1993–2009. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Hassine, V. (1996). Life without parole: Living in prison today. Los Angeles, California: Roxbury Publishing Company.

Hemmens, C., & Marquart, J. W. (2000). Friend or foe? Race, age, and inmate perceptions of inmate-staff relations. Journal of Criminal Justice, 28(4), 297-312. Available from:

Hemming, L., Pratt, D., Shaw, J., & Haddock, G. (2020). Prison staff’s views and understanding of the role of emotions in prisoner suicide and violence. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology,

Heron, J., & Reason, P. (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative inquiry, 3(3), 274-294.

Hershcovis, M.S., Turner, N., Barling, J., Arnold, K.A., Dupré, K.E., Inness, M., LeBlanc, M.M. & Sivanathan, N. (2007). Predicting workplace aggression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(1), 228-238.

Hobbs, G. S., & Dear, G. E. (2000). Prisoners’ perceptions of prison officers as sources of support. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 31(1-2), 127-142.

Jacobs, J.B. (1974). Street gangs behind bars. Social problems, 21(3), 395-409.

Kaluza, A. J., Boer, D., Buengeler, C., & van Dick, R. (2020). Leadership behaviour and leader self-reported well-being: A review, integration and meta-analytic examination. Work & Stress, 34(1), 34-56.

Karasek Jr, R.A. (1979). Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign. Administrative Science Quarterly, 285-308.

King, E. A., Tripodi, S. J., & Veeh, C. A. (2018). The relationship between severe mental disorders and recidivism in a sample of women released from prison. Psychiatric Quarterly, 89(3), 717-731.

Konda, S., Reichard, A.A., & Tiesman, H.M. (2012). Occupational injuries among U.S. correctional officers, 1999–2008. Journal of Safety Research, 43, 181-186.

Lambert, E.G., Hogan, N.L., & Altheimer, I. (2010). An exploratory examination of the consequences of burnout in terms of life satisfaction, turnover intent, and absenteeism among private correctional staff. The Prison Journal, 90, 94-114.

Laws, B., & Crewe, B. (2016). Emotion regulation among male prisoners. Theoretical Criminology, 20(4), 529-547.

Levenson, J. (2001). Inside information: Prisons and the media. Criminal Justice Matters, 43, 14-15.

Levitt, H.M., Motulsky, S.L., Wertz, F.J., Morrow, S.L., & Ponterotto, J.G. (2017). Recommendations for designing and reviewing qualitative research in psychology: Promoting methodological integrity. Qualitative Psychology, 4(1), 2-22.

Lucchetti, L. (2014). Caduti senza l’onore delle armi. Lo studio e la prevenzione del suicidio nelle forze di polizia.

Maffei, M.G. (2003). Lo sciopero della fame della persona detenuta.

Mahfood, V.W., Pollock, W., & Longmire, D. (2013). Leave it at the gate: Job stress and satisfaction in correctional staff. Criminal Justice Studies, 26, 308-325.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 397-422.

Available from:

Mayhew, C. (2001). Occupational Health and Safety Risks Faced by Police Officers. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice, 196.

Miller, S.L. (2011). After the crime: The power of restorative justice dialogues between victims and violent offenders. NYU Press.

Ministero della Giustizia (2005). Glossario. Available from:

Mishra, A., Catchpole, K., & McCulloch, P. (2009). The Oxford NOTECHS System: reliability and validity of a tool for measuring teamwork behaviour in the operating theatre. BMJ Quality & Safety, 18(2), 104-108.

Nieuwenhuijsen, K., Bruinvels, D., & Frings-Dresen, M. (2010). Psychosocial work environment and stress-related disorders, a systematic review. Occupational Medicine, 60(4), 277-286.

Norme sull’ordinamento penitenziario e sulla esecuzione delle misure privative e limitative della libertà, Pub. L. No. 354 (1975)

Patterson, F. (2001). Summary and concluding comments. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 74(4), 559-562.

Petkov, G. (2015). Symptom-based context evaluation of human performance and convergence of HEAP into its HPLV. In Proceedings, ESREL 2015 Conference.

Phillips, D.P. (1974). The influence of suggestion on suicide: Substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect. American Sociological Review, 39(3), 340-354.

Pindek, S., & Spector, P. E. (2016). Organizational constraints: a meta-analysis of a major stressor. Work & Stress, 30(1), 7-25.

Ramluggan, P. (2013). A critical exploration of the management of self-harm in a male custodial setting: Qualitative findings of a comparative analysis of prison staff views on self-harm. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 9(1), 23-34.

Reason, J. (2000). Human Error. Cambridge University Press.

Riff, D., Lacy, S., & Fico, F. (2014). Analyzing media messages: Using quantitative content analysis in research. Routledge.

Roberton, T., Daffern, M., & Bucks, R. S. (2012). Emotion regulation and aggression. Aggression and violent behavior, 17(1), 72-82. Available from:

Roberts, N.A., & Levenson, R.W. (2001). The remains of the workday: Impact of job stress and exhaustion on marital interaction in police couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(4), 1052-1067.

Roosevelt, K., (2003). Exhaustion under the prison litigation reform act: The consequence of procedural error. Penn Law Legal Scholarship Repository.

Scanlan, S. J., Stoll, L. C., & Lumm, K. (2008). Starving for change: The hunger strike and nonviolent action, 1906–2004. In Research in social movements, conflicts and change. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Schaufeli, W. B. (2006). The balance of give and take: Toward a social exchange model of burnout. Revue internationale de psychologie sociale, 19(1), 75-119. Available from:

Schaufeli, W.B., & Peeters, M.C. (2000). Job stress and burnout among correctional officers: A literature review. International Journal of stress management, 7(1), 19-48.

Schippers, M.C., Homan, A.C., & Van Knippenberg, D. (2013). To reflect or not to reflect: Prior team performance as a boundary condition of the effects of reflexivity on learning and final team performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34(1), 6-23.

Semenza, D.C., & Grosholz, J.M. (2019). Mental and physical health in prison: how co-occurring conditions influence inmate misconduct. Health Justice, 7(1).

Shane, J.M. (2013). Daily work experiences and police performance. Police Practice and Research, 14(1), 17-34.

Shaw, R. (2019). Up the creek without a paddle: Consequences for failing to protect prisoners during a natural disaster. Earth Jurisprudence & Envtl. Just. J., 9, 55.

Siméant, J., Traïni, C., & Jasper, J. (2016). Bodies in Protest. Amsterdam University Press.

Singh, S. K. (2019). Territoriality, task performance, and workplace deviance: Empirical evidence on role of knowledge hiding. Journal of Business Research, 97, 10-19.

Skarbek, D. (2014). The social order of the underworld: how prison gangs govern the American penal system. Oxford University Press.

Skarbek, D. (2020). The puzzle of prison order: Why life behind bars varies around the world. Oxford University Press, USA.

Slade, K. (2018). Dual harm: an exploration of the presence and characteristics for dual violence and self-harm behaviour in prison. Journal of criminal psychology.

Sorge, A., & Saita, E. (2021). Assessment of suicide and self-harm risk in foreign offenders. Evaluating the use of tree-drawing test. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 9(3).

Spinaris, C.G., Denhof, M.D., & Kellaway, J.A. (2012). Posttraumatic stress disorder in United States corrections professionals: Prevalence and impact on health and functioning. Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, 1-32

Stojadinovic, S. (2020). The Role of Defensive Emotional Distancing in Loneliness of Offenders with Substance Use Disorders. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8(3).

Stern, M.F., Greifinger, EB., & Mellow, J. (2010). Patient safety: Moving the bar in prison health care standards. American Journal of Public Health 100(11), 2103-2110.

Trounson, J.S., & Pfeifer, J.E. (2016). Promoting correctional officer wellbeing: Guidelines and suggestions for developing psychological training programs. Advancing Corrections, 1, 56-64.

Trounson, J.S., & Pfeifer, J.E. (2017). Correctional officers and workplace adversity. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 23(4), 437-448.

United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (2015). Handbook on Dynamic Security and Prison Intelligence. Criminal Justice Handbook Series.

Van Dyck, C., Frese, M., Baer, M., & Sonnentag, S. (2005). Organizational error management culture and its impact on performance: A two-study replication. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1228.

Violanti, J.M., & Aron, F. (1995). Sources of police stressors, job attitudes and psychological distress. Psychological Reports, 72, 899-904.

Visher, C. A., & Bakken, N. W. (2014). Reentry challenges facing women with mental health problems. Women & health, 54(8), 768-780.

Weick, K.E., & Sutcliffe, K.M. (2001). Managing the unexpected. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weinshenker, N. J., & Siegel, A. (2002). Bimodal classification of aggression: affective defense and predatory attack. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 7(3), 237-250

Williams, C.L., & Porter, J.R. (2016). An examination of inmate physical assaults on jail correctional staff: Exploring inmate-level and jail-level conditions in the United States. Deviant Behavior. 37(11), 1239-1251.

Williams, R. J., Royston, J., & Hagen, B. F. (2005). Gambling and problem gambling within forensic populations: A review of the literature. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 32(6), 665-689.

Wilson, D., & O’Sullivan, S. (2004). Images of incarceration: Representations of prison in film and television drama. Waterside Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.