chapter  6
40 Pages

The symbolic and credible threat of force

ByLuigi Gariglio

This chapter investigates the dynamic of prison officers' threats of force in so-called 'critical events' through observation and ethnographic interviews. It empirically focuses on threatening the use of force either symbolically or credibly. The chapter begins by introducing the discretionary construction of a critical event. It describes the act of threatening coercion in general. Prison officers' jobs are, in fact, intrinsically about using force. 'All prisons are, in the last instance, coercive institutions, even if naked power is not immediately visible in their everyday operation'. 'Critical events' are defined here as particular conduct, behaviour or interactions that have been formally labelled or treated as such by officers. By either formally writing a report on the critical event register, or by informally calling for a security manager's intervention on the wing, the wing officer (or another senior officer on his behalf) could transform a normal problem on the wing into a critical event.