3 Health, Body and Mind

Monday 17th December 2018 15:10-16:30

3 Health, Body and Mind


A carceral territory of mental health: Notes for a reconstruction

Luca Sterchele (Università degli Studi di Padova)

After the approval of law 81/2014 – which ratified the final overcoming of the Italian Ospedali Psichiatrici Giudiziari1 – there has been a profound fragmentation and reorganization of the whole system of mental health care within the carceral field. With this contribution my aim is to reflect on the formal and informal re-configuration of this system, understanding it as a “carceral territory”: as Brighenti (2010) suggests, Territory should be read through a relational and processual perspective – as a series of acts and practices rather than as an object or physical space. In this sense my aim is to outline the configuration of a “carceral territory of mental health”, sketching it through the movements, discourses and practices of different social actors. Using a terminology which is partially borrowed by De Certeau (1980), I will thus consider a threefold gaze on the phenomenon:

  1. The ‘strategic’ gaze of those who govern the movements of people through the carceral field (e.g. psychiatrists, prison directors etc.).
  2. The ‘tactic’ gaze of those who – though being subjected to this form of governmentality – are able to resist, and to use the existent channels in their favour (e.g. prisoners, psychiatric patients etc.).
  3. The ‘reflexive’ gaze of the researcher, who eventually trace the boundaries of the research field.

Using a number of ethnographic notes and pieces of interview I collected during the last two years, I’ll try to propose a possible theoretical understanding which aims to be sensitive to the messiness of this social world (Law, 2009).


What do patients find restrictive about forensic psychiatry? A qualitative study

Jack Tomlin (University of Nottingham), Peter Bartlett (University of Nottingham), Vincent Egan (University of Nottingham) and Birgit Völlm (University of Rostock)


Forensic care settings are often large, enclosed spaces with secure perimeter fencing and high levels of security. They can in many ways be carceral. Visits are regulated, patients may not be afforded leave, access to personal belongings, sexual intimacy, and meaningful contact with the outside world. Where these settings are overly restrictive, this can affect recovery, autonomy and the therapeutic milieu. It is not clear what phenomena patients themselves identify as restrictive and how, subjectively, they experience these. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 patients residing in low, medium and high secure NHS hospitals in England. Respondents included male, female, Mentally Ill and Personality Disordered patients with both civil and criminal detentions. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and the data thematically analysed. The results suggest a model of restrictiveness consisting of five themes:

  1. the antecedent conditions to restrictive phenomena;
  2. restrictive phenomena themselves;
  3. how these are enacted;
  4. how these phenomena were subjectively experienced by residents;
  5. the consequences of these phenomena as expressed by residents.

Restrictiveness understood in this way is more complex than ‘least restrictive practices’ and ‘coercive measures’ typically understood in forensic care. Respondents’ talk encourages us to rethink the iatrogenic effects (including a sense of punitiveness) of placing individuals within secure hospitals, and to critically reflect upon how residents experience their care, what restrictions are necessary or not, and why.


The rigour of Victorian penal servitude: Physical disability, prison authorities and the convict prison system, 1850-1900

Helen Johnston (University of Hull) and Jo Turner (Staffordshire University)


Since the late twentieth century, the contemporary prison system has been forced to respond in a more systematic manner to the needs of disabled prisoners due the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the subsequent Equalities Act 2010, as a group with ‘protected characteristics’. This paper will begin to explore our current research into the experiences of, and policies toward, disabled prisoners in a historical context. How did the Victorian prison administrators, then early twentieth century prison system deal with prisoners with physical disabilities? This area has been significantly overlooked by historians and criminologists yet during this period (1850-1930) there were debilitating childhood illnesses, large numbers of accidents at work, the First World War and other conflicts, that resulted in prisoners being drawn from such populations. Physical disability, injury, illness or amputations, would also have impacted on the ability to undertake paid work which in turn may have resulted in poverty, criminality and/or institutionalisation in prisons, asylums or workhouses. Although prison authorities were at pains to ensure that ‘malingerers’ were not able to mitigate the severity of the prison regime, they did come to recognise that some prisoners were unable, for varying reasons, to cope with the full rigour of penal servitude. By the late 1860s this led to the construction of Woking ‘invalid’ convict prison. This paper presents initial findings examining the lives of individual offenders with physical disabilities, their interactions with prison authorities and their experiences in prison.


Critiquing the Countryside and the Carceral: A historical children’s geographies perspective

Nadia von Benzon (Lancaster University)


The Youthful Offenders Act of 1854 paved the way for a revolution in juvenile criminal justice. Specifically, this Act of Parliament allowed for the certification of reformatory schools run by what would not be referred to as third sector or voluntary organisations. Moreover, willing magistrates were given the power to sentence children to incarceration therein. Reformatory schools existed in a variety of forms, with reformatory farm schools appearing across the country, and particularly in the Northwest. With reference to material from the archives of three such reformatory farm schools, all within easy reach of Liverpool, this paper seeks to explore and critique the biopolitics of Victorian reformatory farm schools. The paper considers the way that young people’s lives were influenced by a capitalist, even neoliberal, rhetoric of the need to shape industrious citizens. The location of these schools in the countryside, as a product of an economic logic rather than an imagined rurality, had significant impact on the experience of young detainees, often with detrimental impact on the young people’s health and wellbeing. Whilst firmly rooted in research in historic archives, this paper poses questions for the contemporary provision of education for pupils with challenging behaviours, and the use of the countryside in alter-childhood interventions.