Prison systems, prisoners’ rights: the role of social and health service interventions, in prison and for social reintegration

Edited by: Franco Prina (Università di Torino), Francesca Vianello (Università di Padova)


An updated reflection is needed on the issues of punishment and the conditions for imposing it, on respect for, and the pursuance of the principles and objectives set out in articles 3 and 27 of the Italian Constitution, and in other important international charters (adopted by the UN, and the European Union, for instance). This reflection needs to be set in the context of the socio-economic dynamics, and cultural and political climate of our times. These dynamics see large sections of the population living in conditions of poverty, social exclusion, and cultural deprivation.  Welfare systems and community solidarity initiatives are no longer able to respond effectively to their needs. Today, more than ever, prison is like a social “landfill”, where the marginalized are locked up – sometimes after committing a crime, but often as a consequence of personal problems and mental stress. They may have been suffering from serious relational and psychological difficulties, and a shortage of resources. After serving their time in prison, they often lack the minimum social capital needed to be able to imagine a different future from the one that led to their imprisonment. The outcome, well expressed by the term “revolving door”, is an existential path marked by their repeatedly entering prison, leaving, and then returning behind bars.

For some time, the cultural climate – fueled by political actors constantly looking for categories of individuals who can be easily targeted as a source of social insecurity (a policy particularly popular among the less well-educated) – has been promoting an intolerance of social marginality (although the reasons for people’s insecurity are known to be far more complex and profound). As a result, we are seeing the widespread re-emergence of a sentiment that concentrates merely on punishment, inspired by a logic of “retribution”. This throwback comes after years marked by a significant presence of a culture of social responsibility, and a logic of re-education and re-socialization,  accompanied by a critical attitude to the efficacy of total institutions, and a tendency to favor diversion measures. Now, the tide has turned. The focus is constantly on the pursuit of a punishment (even if it only on paper), and the denial of fundamental rights (health, education, work, the maintenance of emotional and social ties) for those found guilty of criminal offenses.

In such a scenario, orientations and experiences that continue to cultivate critical thinking, approaches and practices that respect the dignity of people subjected to a limitation of their personal freedom, and defend the retention of their rights, are resisting with difficulty, and not everywhere, both inside prisons and in the surrounding areas.


This call for papers aims to gather articles that enable us to outline how the penal system operates today, in Italy and other countries, and/or from a comparative perspective. We would like to look at these prison systems’ features, problems, contradictions, and critical aspects, but also at the numerous experiences that preserve those principles that should lie behind the use of detention. Particular attention could be paid to the social, health, and cultural services (be they public, private or third-sector) that interact with the prison system.

How society imposes punishments is a broad issue that can be studied from various perspectives. We welcome contributions describing research or systematizing and discussing significant experiences regarding:

  • the principles, the sense, the functions of punishment in the contemporary world;
  • empirical research on prison practices: topics, challenges, methodological aspects;
  • the prison population and the conditions of their detention: critical issues;
  • the prison staff: their roles, professional culture, needs and problems;
  • prisoners as people who have rights (to health, education, work, affective relations, etc.): theoretical considerations, effectiveness of the rights, the role of the ombudsman for prisoners’ rights;
  • health in prison, and basic and specialist health service provision (mental health, drug addiction);
  • education and vocational training: the role and experiences of the school and university system;
  • work as a limited resource and opportunity;
  • alternative measures: conditions and critical issues;
  • the role of judicial and community social services, and their relationship with other social services and private, third-sectors resources;
  •  the prison in the city, the city in the prison: commitments of local institutions and civil society in penitentiaries, and of re-education processes.

Abstracts and articles can be written in Italian or other widely-used languages.

Abstracts may be no more than 500 words long, and should be sent no later than 15 April 2020 to Autonomie Locali e Servizi Sociali (autonomielocalieservizisociali @, and to the editors: Franco Prina ( and Francesca Vianello (francesca.vianello @

Appropriate abstracts will be selected by no later than 30 April 2020.

Articles (from 35,000 to 40,000 characters long, spaces and bibliography included) must be received by 1 September 2020. Then they will undergo a double-blind review process in compliance with the journal’s editorial rules).

The publication of the monographic issue is expected before the end of 2020.



  • Abstract: 15th April 2020
  • Notification of acceptance of abstracts: 30th April 2020
  • Submission of full articles for review: 1st September 2020