Research & Resources

Scottish Prison Service

Barbados Prison Service


Casting light on prison violence: Managing situational risk factors’COOKE, D.J. (2020)Advancing Corrections. Journal of the International Corrections and Prisons Association, 10, 83-95.

Systematic approaches to risk assesment and risk management have made dramatic progress in the last three decades. Unsurprisingly, the focus has been on risk factors intrinsic to the individual- e.g., their history of violence, substance misuse disorder, personality pathology or violent ideation. This focus has relevance but also reflects the fundamental attribution bias, that is, the tendency, when it comes to explaining behaviour of others, to highlight their personal characteristics and downplay contextual factors. This is the opposite of what we do when explaining our own behavour! When it comes to violence in prisons, the context can have a substantial impact. Prisoners are not violent merely because of who tehy are but because of where they are – and how they are treated. My colleague Dr Lorraine Johnstone and I endeavoured to develop a procedure designed to manage situational risk factors. PRISM is a Structured Proffessional Judgement process designed to identofy and manage the characteristics of a prison – or other secure facility – that increase the likelyhood that individual prisoners will engage in violent behaviour. In this paper, I outline the origins and development of the PRISM approach, describe how it may be implemented and oputline several case studies describing its application. By understanding both the individual and the institution we can prevent violence.

Casting light on prison violence: Managing situational risk factors – ARTICLE PDF


Somewhere over the Rainbow: Improving Violence Risk Management in Institutional Settings‘ Cooke, David J. and Johnstone, Lorraine,  International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 9:3, 150 – 158

Tackling violence in prisons and forensic institutions is a key role for mental health professionals. Major strides have been made in the last twenty years in the evaluation and management of individual risk factors. However, the understanding of situational—or institutional—risk factors is less well developed. This special section considers PRISM. PRISM is a set of structured professional guidelines for assessing and managing the risk of violence in institutions. In contrast to better known forms of structured judgment approaches the focus of concern is the functioning of the institution, not the individual patient or prisoner. In this introductory paper we describe the development of PRISM, its conceptual and empirical base, and demonstrate and propose a range of applications for the approach. We argue that PRISM can have value in a range of important practical tasks, but also, PRISM can be used to enhance our theoretical understanding of the risk processes that underpin institutional violence.

Keywords: PRISM; institutional violence; violence risk; public health models of violence

PRISM Applied to a Critical Incident Review: A Case Study of the Glendairy Prison Riot and Its Aftermath in Barbados‘, Cooke, David J. and Wozniak, Ed, International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 9:3, 159 – 172

PRISM (Promoting Risk Interventions by Situational Management) has multiple uses. In this paper we describe case studies that consider, first, the riot and the consequent loss of Glendairy prison in Barbados, and second, the functioning of the temporary prison at Harrison’s point created to contain, on a short-term basis, over 1000 prisoners. We analyze the organizational processes that led to the violence at Glendairy and we consider the processes that maintained the high level of violence at Harrison’s Point. We conclude by providing recommendations about changes in institutional practice designed to prevent the transmission of the culture of acceptance of violence to the new state-of-the art prison being created. Moving from the practical to the theoretical, we argue that the application of PRISM can promote the understanding of the theoretical processes—risk processes—that operate to increase or decrease the likelihood of violence in institutions, whether prisons or forensic mental health facilities.

Keywords: prison violence; institutional risk factors; PRISM; risk processes; violence

PRISM with Incarcerated Young People: Optical Illusion or Reflection of Reality?‘, Cregg, Michelle and Payne, Elizabeth, International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 9:3, 173 – 179

The PRISM process was used to assess the presence of situational risk factors for institutional violence in a juvenile custodial setting in the UK. As part of the assessment, interviews were carried out with staff and young people (aged 15 to 17) and records of violence on the unit over the previous two years were analyzed. Results revealed the presence of a number of situational risk factors for violence with differing levels of severity. A number of interventions were devised for the management of violence on the unit. The study provides support for the utility of PRISM within juvenile custodial settings.

Keywords: prison violence; risk assessment; situational risk factors; structured professional judgment; violence; juvenile; situational risk factors; institutional violence; institutional risk factors; juvenile custodial settings; environmental factors

PRISM: A Promising Paradigm for Assessing and Managing Institutional Violence: Findings from a Multiple Case Study Analysis of Five Scottish Prisons‘, Johnstone, Lorraine and Cooke, David J., International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 9:3, 180 – 191

PRISM: Promoting Risk Intervention by Situational Management (Johnstone & Cooke, 2008) provides a systematic process for evaluating a range of situational risk factors known to influence institutional violence in prisons and secure hospital settings. This paper reports on findings from the first multiple case-study evaluation using this protocol. We applied PRISM in the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). The SPS is a modern prison system. It respects prisoners’ human rights, maintains order and control via humane and dignified means, and works towards the rehabilitation of prisoners and reducing reoffending rates overall. The SPS comprises a national headquarters where relevant policies and protocols are derived but governors and senior management teams are based within the local prisons to ensure the effective running of the organisation. While the SPS can boast decreasing rates of serious violence, there are significant variations across sites. We used PRISM to explore the relevance of situational risk factors to understanding these variations. Results suggested that the protocol was a promising paradigm for assessing risk factors unique to each site as well as showing utility for exposing problems related to the national policies and practices. The risk assessment led to a range of risk management interventions being proposed. The implications of the findings are discussed.

Keywords: violence; risk assessment; risk management; prisons; secure settings; PRISM; case study

Beyond Punishment: Applying PRISM in a New Zealand Maximum Security Prison‘, Wilson, Nick J. and Tamatea, Armon , International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 9:3, 192 – 204

Institutional violence has typically in the past focused on individual risk factors (substance abuse, impulsivity, personality, mental health functioning, etc.). Over recent years, the focus in assessing for violence in institutional settings has shifted from internal variables to environmental (or situational) factors. A newly developed institutional measure, Promoting Risk Intervention by Situational Management (PRISM), a structured approach to examine situational risk factors was applied to New Zealand maximum security prison units. Assessment found distorted views of violence and safety (confirmed that violence was sporadic and not predictable and more likely to relate to situational risk factors), problems in leadership on violence management, a lack of specific training or recruitment for working in maximum security or consistent specialist training. The area of most concern related to a restricted unlock regime with no treatment options and limited recreational activities. Specific issues included population mix with gang issues preventing prisoner movement to maintain gang parity, and “siltage,” with other prisons reluctant to take transfers. Stiltage in this case refers to prisoner flow through the institution being choked up. Staff found use of risk scenarios a ‘natural’ move to a future rather than past risk consideration. Changes as a result of PRISM included attention to staff mix, implementation of an active management approach, and some flexibility regarding quality-of-life experiences. The application of PRISM to each unit endorsed the need for a differential approach with varying needs found. Unfortunately, the lack of a more flexible prison environment and continued serious violence in these units prevented major changes at this stage. The implications of applying PRISM in the face of such issues, as well as increasing level of imprisonment with limited funding are discussed.

Keywords: prison violence; structured professional judgment; institutional risk factors, maximum security; violence management

Casting Light On Prison Violence in Scotland: Evaluating the Impact of Situational Risk Factors
David J. Cooke, Ed Wozniak, & Lorraine Johnstone
Violence among prisoners and that between prisoners and staff is a perennial concern for all prison systems. That violent prisoners are only violent in certain circumstances suggests a need to develop ways to understand not only the origins of violence in prison but also the situational contexts in which violence occurs. The technology of risk assessment has evolved dramatically in the last decade; however, the focus on individual risk factors has been at the expense of a de-emphasizing of the role of situational factors. In this article, evidence for the importance of situational factors in relation to prison violence is considered. The authors describe the development of a new risk assessment procedure—promoting risk intervention by situational management (PRISM). Within the context of the Scottish Prison Service, they conclude that systematic attention to situational risk factors can help reduce prison violence.

Cooke, D.J., Wozniak, E., & Johnstone, L. (2008) Casting light on prison violence in Scotland: Evaluating the impact of situational factors. Criminal Justice and Behavior,  35, 8, 1065-1078.

Gadon, L., Cooke, D.J., and Johnstone, L. (2006) Situational variables and institutional violence: A systematic review of the literature, Clinical Psychology Review, 26, 515-534.



Downloadable article

A look though the PRISM – Article from the Psychologist vol 25 no 8 August 2012.

Book chapters available

Violence and the Pains of Confinement: PRISM as a Promising Paradigm for Violence Prevention
to appear in The Handbook of Correctional Psychology (Wiley). Devon Polaschek, Andrew Day & Clive Hollin (Editors)

PRISM chapter
Cooke, D.J. & Johnstone, L. (2013) Risk management: Beyond the Individual. In C. Logan & L. Johnstone (eds.) Managing clinical risk: A guide to effective practice. Oxford: Routledge.