Prison officers (PO) are key figures in daily prison life. In current
post-authoritarian prisons, POs’ roles and power are subjected to
change and surrounded with ambiguities. In Belgium, however, POs
regularly go on strike, leading to dramatic consequences for the
prisoners. In 2019, a new Penitentiary Act introduced pivotal changes
in the future Belgian POs’ training, job description and organization of
their work. The Dutch PO-model, where the difference between the
so-called ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ custody is reflected in different POs’ jobs,
was an important source of inspiration of the Belgian Act.
The aim of this research is to theoretically and empirically understand
and compare the implications of the new configuration of penal
power in post-authoritarian prisons on the role(conflicts) of POs in
Belgium and the Netherlands. Local PO practices, cultures and ‘jail
craft’ in Belgian and Dutch prisons with regard to custody, order, care
and justice will qualitatively and quantitatively be investigated.
A mixed-method research design consisting of participant
observations and in-depth interviews with POs will be carried out in a
matched selection of open and closed prison regimes in small and
big prisons in Belgium and the Netherlands. These data will be
supplemented with a short questionnaire of a bigger sample of POs
in both countries.
Finally, this research aims to understand to what extent Dutch
practices are feasible and desirable within the Belgian context..