GB: When considering dynamic security, it’s important to highlight that we often don’t work with people. We’re used to acting on them through prevention techniques and support measures, and sometimes even against them. The challenge is that prison and penitentiary systems are built on a foundation of suspicion, making it difficult to establish mutual trust between individuals. Building trusting relationships is complex when there’s a system designed to evaluate and control prisoners’ behaviour.
While the idea of increasing security by fostering positive relationships with individuals is generally accepted, things get more complicated when we examine the specifics. Participation, when mentioned, is often met with ambivalence or even outright refusal in favour of maintaining established positions. It is frequently reduced to a mere consultation.
Indeed, unlike the Anglo-Saxon model, which views collective action as a space for conflict and recognises the individual as a social actor in the true sense of the term, France remains committed to a top-down conception of action. The expression prise en charge (“taking care of“) gives the impression that there is a superior and an inferior. However, when I say this, prison staff often reply that they work with prisoners. I understand that they need to make themselves believe this. If they were to admit that they are in a dominant position and that they have in front of them a dominated person on whom they act, they could not do what they do, or at least not as comfortably. They are neither robots nor cold-hearted monsters, but in the way they are asked to act with programmes and devices, they are part of an asymmetrical relationship.
Another limitation relates to the issue of risk. To implement a dynamic security policy, one must understand and accept the risk of yielding control over the security dialogue to prisoners.
When properly guided and institutionalised, this practice helps bring together individuals who are compelled to meet, talk, and get to know one another, ultimately transforming violence into conflict. To achieve this, it’s necessary to provide spaces for conflict resolution where dialogue and social connections are restored. When there are no spaces for prisoners to express their grievances, violence can become the mode of communication that they use to make themselves heard.
As the sociologist Antoinette Chauvenet says, “It is precisely because prisoners are denied peaceful means of making themselves heard that they resort to the means left to them, turning against themselves, others, or the organisation, using the latter’s weapons of violence or fear, and creating incidents.” The goal is not to trivialise matters and give moral lessons to prisoners, but to take seriously what they have to say, engage in the debate, and give it meaning.
Certainly, the challenge is stimulating: how, through the lens of dynamic security, can we create more democratic and reasoned spaces for dialogue that mobilise participation, even in the highly constrained environment that is prison? Ultimately, we must think and open up new possibilities!