23 November 2023

A research and intervention project starting with the redevelopment and redesign of spaces dedicated to children visiting their families in the Penal Institutions of Reggio Emilia

A dialogue between the criminological scientific approach of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, the Reggio Childhood Studies Phd, and the city's educational experience on learning environments with Fondazione Reggio Children and the collaboration of Istituzione Scuole e Nidi d'Infanzia

The project is one of the planned activities between Penal Institutes and the Municipality of Reggio Emilia

Today, Thursday, November 23, 2023, is presented "diStanze in Gioco", a research-intervention project on the relationship between parent-prisoner and child, which has brought into dialogue scientific criminological skills and early childhood educational experience in Reggio Emilia, starting with the redevelopment of the space dedicated to the meetings of inmates with their families, their girls and their boys, carried out within the Penal Institutions of Reggio Emilia.

Incarceration has negative repercussions on family relationships and creates distances, often irreducible, between detained persons and their families, which are entirely negative both for the resocialization path of the detained person and for the developmental path of the child. The research project addresses the implementation of an intervention to strengthen and protect the relationship between detained father and child, carried out from the re-design and redevelopment of environments dedicated to family visits in the prison context. "DiStanze in Gioco" was therefore dedicated to the redesign of rooms, spaces, environments, to put back into play the distances and to carry out an intervention aimed at reconstructing and strengthening the relationship between the parent and the child.

A network of promoters between justice and education

The research-intervention project, which originated in the Penal Institutions of Reggio Emilia and is promoted by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia - Department of Education and Human Sciences and the Reggio Children Foundation-Loris Malaguzzi ETS Center, was approved by the Regional Superintendent of the Penitentiary Administration for Emilia-Romagna and Marche, and was developed as part of the PhD program in "Reggio Childhood Studies" with the collaboration of Istituzione Nidi e Scuole Infanzia of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. The project is also among the activities planned in an integrated way between Penal Institutes of Reggio Emilia and the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. The combination of the multiple skills involved in the project allowed the construction of a particularly original research-intervention project and to measure itself in listening to and interpreting specific needs in this area.

Speakers at the project presentation include Lucia Monastero, Director of Criminal Institutions of Reggio Emilia, Luca Vecchi, Mayor of Reggio Emilia, Carla Rinaldi, President of Reggio Children Foundation, Susanna Pietralunga, Professor of Criminology, Department of Education and Human Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

Goal of the project

The goal of the project is to foster the quality of relationships between the detained parent, children and family members, including through the enhancement of the so-called "interview" moment, starting with a redesign of the space.

The path, in line with the assumptions of intervention of a scientific criminological nature and with the values of the educational experience of Reggio Emilia and the experience of relational design of spaces gained by the Reggio Children Foundation in its interventions against educational poverty, has triggered a virtuous process of dialogue and confrontation between different professionalism and sensibilities. 

The project, therefore, developed as a path of research and multidisciplinary intervention on the theme of pedagogical design of space, methods of treatment intervention of a scientific criminological nature and the importance of architectural languages.

The visiting space dedicated to the meetings of inmates with their children and families in the penitentiary context was thus reconsidered: on the one hand, as a tool for the resocializing treatment of the inmate, aimed at his social reintegration and the reduction of recidivism; on the other hand, as a tool that promotes the psycho-physical well-being of children, aimed at their healthy and harmonious growth.


The project therefore carried out the redevelopment and redesign of two spaces within the Penitentiary Institutions that had been open since 2005 and defined as "playrooms", which were in need of redevelopment and rethinking.

Multidisciplinary reflection led to the consideration of a paradigm shift, from "playroom" to a meeting space dedicated to the whole family in which play does not constitute a separate activity that children can perform within the common space but becomes a way to create relationships and strengthen the parent-prisoner-child relationship.

The two rooms, needing to accommodate multiple families at the same time, as is the case nationwide in most Penal Execution Institutions, have been rethought as a set of micro-places whose forms evoke safety, relationship, and family.

Each micro-place houses a family unit and has been conceived and designed to suggest opportunities for interaction and relationship between adults and children through various play opportunities. Thanks to their light and transparent characteristics, created with wooden profiles, the micro-places can encourage family intimacy but, at the same time, allow visual inspection by prison personnel, and thus reconcile families' right to privacy with the security needs of the institution.

Inmates also at work

Among the actors involved, even incarcerated people, who are the main beneficiaries, have taken firsthand care of these new spaces. Some have taken care of the upgrading of the rooms with the restoration of the deteriorated plaster, painting thanks to regional funds under the Plan for the Inclusion of Adults and Youth in Penal Execution managed by ENAIP in the Professional Course "Skills for Facilities Construction Operator. Other inmates, on the other hand, were directly involved in the construction and assembly of new furniture, thanks to funds from the Municipality of Reggio Emilia and collaboration with the internal carpentry shop of the Penal Institutions of Reggio Emilia managed by the SemiLiberi project of the Cooperative L'Ovile. Inmates also participated in making pillows and curtains thanks to volunteers from the institute's in-house tailoring workshop. Still others performed maintenance work as part of the institution's routine maintenance activities.

Read the full press release: 

Last modified: 06 December 2023

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