Research Projects

One jail, two sexes and three genders: the struggle concerning the gender binarism in Italian prisons

Ambito disciplinare Sociologia

Tipologia finanziamento Istituzionale

Ente Finanziatore ATENEO - Progetti di Ricerca di Ateneo

Data avvio: 16 February 2015

Data termine: 28 February 2017


Purpose: In Italy special sections have been instituted in eight prisons, according to the latest revelation in 2009, namely Naples, Rome, Florence, Belluno, Rimini, Alba, Milan and Bollate for overall 78 inmates, mainly of South-American nationality, whose gender identity falls somewhere in between or outside the sexual dualism. In all these penitentiary structures the sections for transgender inmates are inserted inside the male ward, except in Florence, where this sector is collocated within the female part of the prison. Until nowadays it is not clear how to solve a situation, which’s symbolic constrains do not allow managing a gender claiming, in contrast to the heteronormative hegemony of prisons’ organizational logics. Because of the few studies, realized until now about this particular phenomenon, along with the hard challenges, inmates and prisons’ staff have to face everyday in these highly institutionalized contexts, this project-proposal should promote an integrated perspective about such a segregated, ignored and stigmatized reality within the Italian penitentiary system, considering psychological, social, cultural and normative factors.
Methods: As the number of these prisoners represent a marginal position for the management of such contexts, a qualitative approach results being the most appropriate in order to face this reality. An update mapping, throughout ethnographic background observation of at least three institutes, along with the current legislation concerning internalization of transgender inmates, represents the first step of the project. Afterwards analysis of norms and national as well as local laws, offers a basis for contextualizing the phenomenon. Then semistructured interviews to stakeholders should be conducted for obtaining information about the condition of detainment and the working practices, prisons’ staff is daily facing inside these special sections. Finally in-depth interviews with the transgender inmates constitute the principal goal for the project. Such witnesses make emerge the positioning of the inmates towards their social representation of gender on one hand and the way these persons experience their condition of detainment on the other. Critical discourse studies, by adopting qualitative investigation tools, like Transana or Atlas.Ti, will be applied to the gathered discursive material, in order to investigate on the experiences of transgender detainment from micro - interaction with language and environment, to macro - interaction with cultural and symbolic superstructures, passing through the intermediate level of everyday interactions among prisoners, guards and context. The single portions of textual data will be associated to specific conceptual categories, defined ex-post by the research team.
Expected results: Out of the three corpus of data, an overall panorama about the modalities, detainment of transgender inmates is managed in Italian jails, should offer important implementations for policies, in order to improve either the situation of imprisonment than the working conditions of staff members. Analysis of norms and laws, finally, make emerge if current legislation reflects the actual situation, proposing, if necessary, modification for the management of a delicate and at the same time complex situation inside the penitentiary system. Such a triangular investigation amongst norms, context and society, allows contributing to knowledge about transgender pathways and about gender studies more generally.
Conclusions: This project aims contributing to existing knowledge, by investigating directly a hidden and often ignored reality, namely the detainment of trangender in jail. Findings out of either ethnographic background observation than the interviews of prisons’ staff and transgender inmates, may foretell the urgent need to promote interventions, such as specific formative initiatives for both, stakeholders and prisoners.