Prison Social Work and the Risk Security System: Insights from Swiss Correctional Facilities


  • Julia Emprechtinger HES-SO Valais-Wallis
  • Marina Richter HES-SO Valais-Wallis


prison social work, risk security regime, prison, professional positioning, care & control


Social work’s role in managing the risk of recidivism is increasing in the Swiss penal system. With data from a qualitative study in two Swiss correctional facilities collected during 2019-2020, this article shows that prison social work has a triple role encompassing voluntary social assistance, tasks in relation to the execution of a sentence, and – in the focus of this article – relatively new tasks in line with the risk-minimizing reasoning in prisoner rehabilitative work. The risk-oriented approach, however, is conceptualized under the definitional power of forensic psychology, which assigns social work a subordinate, executing role. While issues of motivating involuntary clients to offence-centred work are intensely discussed in social workers’ reasoning regarding the risk-oriented work, critically questioning social work’s role in the tension between care and control is less evident in the data. We argue that to strengthen the profession’s positioning in the risk-minimizing set of tasks of carceral institutions, a broader interdisciplinary discourse within it is necessary which requires a clear and convincing statement of social work on its possible theoretical and methodical contribution in individual case work as well as on the level of the system as a whole.