While differences between jurisdictions are evident, conventional custodial facilities heavily rely on punitive and risk-focused security practices and prioritize physical and procedural security. These practices, however, have a paradoxical effect, as they provoke rather than reduce aggression and violence. A strong reliance on physical and procedural security may put the institution in a state of hypervigilance, as under greater restriction the risk of another incident increases: the ‘aggression-coercion cycle’ (Armytage & Ogloff, 2017; Goren, Singh & Best, 1993).
Moreover, the nature of these settings is inherently harmful to the person incarcerated as it isolates them from their families, social ties and community, limits educational and job opportunities, and limits physical movement and stimulation (significantly deteriorating brain development and executive functions; Meijers, 2018). In order to address offending-related risks and developmental needs, it is paramount that within a secure setting autonomy, responsibility and freedom are (gradually) promoted. A heavy reliance on physical and procedural security, however, strongly limits autonomy, freedom and responsibility. For all these reasons custodial settings with a strong reliance on physical and procedural security can foster, rather than curb, offending (Zoettl, 2021).
On the other hand, relational security has been labelled as ‘the best security element in a custodial setting’ (Armytage & Ogloff, 2017) or ‘the most valuable and unobtrusive form of control’ (Leggett & Hirons, 2006: 232). As an example: in 2016 the Dutch Ministry of Justice initiated a three-year evaluation to examine the feasibility and potential efficacy of an alternative custodial model for young people: small-scaled, community-embedded and grounded in relational security. A few procedural security measures could be applied (e.g. drug testing and room searching), but other measures like strip searches, uniforms (neither for youth nor staff), strict visiting hours, or plastic cutlery or furniture were not part of the facilities policies. During the day young people were able to move independently through the facility. The facilities were located within a neighbourhood, in close proximity to young people’s home environment; daytime activities, such as school or work, were organized outside the facility, to which youth were able to travel independently. Staff were trained to refrain from measures of physical security like physical restraint or solitary confinement; alarms, high surrounding walls, and window fences also had no place in these facilities. The internal and external structures were designed to reflect a homely atmosphere.