Prison social climate

What is the prison social climate?

Prison social climate is a term that popularly represents those properties of prison that can have a significant impact on the behavior of individuals. Prison social climate describes what it is like to actually live and work in a prison environment, including interpersonal relationships, but also the material and organizational dimensions of prison life1.

There is no consensus in the literature on the definition and terminological definition of the concept of prison social climate, but there is a general recognition that each prison has its own specific ”character”, which affects the welfare and behavior of convicts during and after imprisonment. In other words, the concept of prison climate embodies the idea that “pains of imprisonment” can vary depending on the conditions of captivity.

Prison social climate is often defined as the „material, social and emotional state of a given unit and implies interaction between factors”, or as „a set of properties or conditions related to the climate of the internal environment, its organization, as perceived by its members”. It is often used in the literature and is synonymous with the terms prison environment, social climate, moral climate, institutional climate, etc.

Thus, the notion of prison social climate is a multidimensional construct, consisting of various components that describe how (in what way) convicts and/or staff experience a particular (prison) unit. These components contain a number of features, which include (but are not limited to) e.g. how safe are convicts and staff from threats of aggression and violence (by other convicts), how supportive is the therapeutic orientation, to what extent are the physical/psychological needs of convicts met, and to what extent does the (prison) environment provide an opportunity to learn new skills and the adoption of prosocial behavior.

Why is the prison social climate important?

In recent decades, the professional scientific community has been focusing more and more attention on studying the prison social climate.

Research indicates that the characteristics of the prison social climate actually mediate between convicts and rehabilitation or therapeutic measures. In other words, the prison’s social or institutional climate can potentially facilitate the successful rehabilitation of convicts or hinder their progress2.

Importance of measuring and considering the prison climate is key to understanding what happens in prison, as well as what can be expected after release from prison.

Differences in climate in individual prisons or prison units are considered extremely significant because it is assumed that a better prison climate is associated with more positive behavior of convicts, higher well-being, better mental health, fewer disciplinary offences and lower aggression, as well as lower recidivism.

A large number of studies have highlighted the importance and impact that prison social climate has on attitudes and satisfaction between staff and convicts, adjusting inmates to prison and prison (formal) regimes, and the incidence of physical and verbal violence. Research has also documented that a stimulating prison environment can increase convicts’ readiness and motivation to become more actively involved in rehabilitation treatments.

One way to improve the prison social climate is to look for factors that are variable (by the administration) and that are related to the convict’s perception of prison conditions, such as the treatment of convicts. Extreme disrespect, dishonesty or degrading treatment leads to psychological suffering, anger, tension and depression. Targeting or preventing these harmful aspects of prison life and promoting positive interpersonal relationships can prevent negative outcomes and violence in prison communities.

It seems that the importance of reducing the negative effects of imprisonment should not be emphasized, not only for humanitarian reasons, but also for much wider security concerns, but also because a negative prison social climate can have detrimental consequences beyond the prison sentence.


Ljeposava Ilijić


1 Retrieved from: Ilijić, Lj., Milićević, M., & Pavićević, O. (2022). Osvrt na početke proučavanja zatvorske socijalne klime i razvoj instrumenata za procenu. Zbornik Instituta za kriminološka i sociološka istraživanja, br. 1/2022.
2 Retrived from: Ilijić, Lj. (2021). Zatvorska socijalna klima – pojam, faktori i značaj zatvorske socijalne klime. Zbornik Instituta za kriminološka i sociološka istraživanja, Vol. XL, br. 2-3. str. 59-76. doi: 10.47152/ziksi202123024