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Fear is the key: keeping the balance between flexibility and control in a Dutch youth prison

Peer van der Helm (Research Director in the School of Social Studies at Leiden University of Applied Sciences, Leiden, The Netherlands)
Iris Boekee (Group Worker's Coach at Teylingereind Youth Correctional Institution, Sassenheim, The Netherlands)
Geert Jan Stams (Professor in the Department of Forensic Child and Youth Care Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Peter van der Laan (Senior Researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 9 December 2011




This study seeks to examine the education, safety, and professional attitudes of group workers in a Dutch youth prison and to analyse their perceptions of the organisational culture and leadership by line management. To achieve therapeutic goals, group workers must maintain a balance between flexibility and control.


A total of 59 group workers (40 per cent male and 60 per cent female) randomly chosen from eight living groups (141 group workers) were interviewed and completed questionnaires.


It was found that some interactions between group workers and prisoners created fear, suspicion, and violence, and that staff varied in their behavioural responses to perceived safety risks and disorder. “Transformational” leadership by management was associated with less fear, more flexibility, and less control; factors necessary to create a rehabilitative group climate.


The findings of this study inform the treatment of young offenders in secure correctional facilities.



van der Helm, P., Boekee, I., Jan Stams, G. and van der Laan, P. (2011), "Fear is the key: keeping the balance between flexibility and control in a Dutch youth prison", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 248-263.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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