Systems of self-governance or “shared management” can be defined by the authorities’ delegation of power to certain detainees or groups of detainees. Depending on the situation, this transfer of powers can range from self-organisation within a dormitory to total control of the prison by certain detainees, including disciplinary measures, with the authorities only controlling the outer perimeter of the prison. Such a system of extreme self-governance is synonymous with being arbitrary and violent for the detainees held there.
If some social, educational or sporting activities or responsibilities may be entrusted to certain detainees then the selection process of detainees given these responsibilities plays an essential role. Are the detainees’ representatives elected the wealthiest, most powerful ones or are they elected democratically? Even when detainees are chosen in a democratic and transparent manner as representatives of the overall interests of the prison population, it is possible that the interests of some minority groups is not sufficiently taken into account.
If an almost total self-governance of prisons is limited to some isolated contexts, a certain degree of delegation of powers to specific detainees exists in the majority of systems. Whether power is delegated to gang leaders, mafia bosses or to people with special influence, in all cases the result would be arbitrary with more injustice and violence for detainees.
Systems of self-governance are generally characterised by the absence of medical care and services, the application of unfair and arbitrary sanctions, extortion (of inmates and/or their relatives), mental and physical violence as well as rape. The risks are even greater due to the fact that the «heads» of gangs can be rivals and provoke violent fights. Detainees who are from a minority, for reasons of ethnicity, nationality, age and sexual orientation etc., find themselves in situations of extreme vulnerability in prisons characterised by self-governance.