This paper reviews the history of the social climate of prisons in Slovenia, with a focus on changes between 1980 and 2006, and evaluates the theory and practice of socio-therapy as a specific approach to the treatment of offenders during their prison stay.
In the late 1970s, a group of penologists within the Slovene Ministry of Justice launched efforts to improve the social climate of a closed prison. Specific objectives were to create an environment for free discussion and the acceptance of the inmate at his/her current development; foster inmates' acknowledgment of the significance of emotional conflicts and their link to criminal behavior; improve the emotional climate of the institution; and provide treatment in an environment of constructive interpersonal relationships. In 1982, the social climate among the inmates in the prison was more positive than in most Slovene penal institutions. The recidivism rate for inmates released from the prison decreased to 20 percent, compared to 60 percent in other Slovene prisons. In 1991, however, the warden who had been at the prison from the experiment's beginning retired, to be replaced by a warden without the personal traits required to promote the social climate that had prevailed in the prison for 15 years. The prison reverted to a closed, totalitarian institution. Therapy based in a positive social climate in prisons (socio-therapy) has proven to be effective when implemented by qualified staff with personality characteristics and training necessary to create such a social climate. It is also necessary that the society which sets the context for penological principles has progressed beyond the traditional belief that negative human behaviors are best met with punitive and controlling institutional responses. Unfortunately, this has not occurred in Slovene society. 12 references