Letter from John Bowden, UK social prisoner, about prison psychological repression (UK)
The use by the prison system of in-house psychologists to medicalise the personality of “difficult” prisoners and prolong their imprisonment has become wide-spread and institutionalised. Historically the involvement and collusion of prison-hired doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists in the ill-treatment and repression of prisoners has a long and infamous tradition. In the 1960s and 1970s compliant prison psychiatrists frequently and unlawfully assisted prison staff to control and subdue “unmanageable” prisoners by forcefully administering psychotropic drugs in a practice known as the “liquid cosh”. Jail psychiatrists also provided their authority to facilitate the removal of rebellious prisoners to high-security mental hospitals such as Broadmoor and Rampton in a practise that became known as “Nutting-off”. In the early 1990s prison doctors at Wormwoods Scrubs Prison in London were revealed to have conspired and colluded with prison staff in covering-up the physical brutalisation of prisoners in the jail’s segregation/punishment unit. A number of prison officers were subsequently prosecuted for having assaulted prisoners and the British Medical Council called for removal of prison doctors from the council’s register.
Psychologists employed by the prison system and based in individual prisons are used as an integral part of the control armour of these jails in the guise of a “multi-disciplinary” team based approach to maintaining the status quo and disempowerment of prisoners. Just as prison doctors have sometimes been used to cover up the physical maltreatment and occasionally their murder at the hands of prison staff, so prison employed psychologists dutifully prostitute their authority to stigmatize prisoners as social misfits, psychopaths and sociopaths, thereby re-enforcing their marginalisation and de-humanization and the power of the system over them. In the totalitarian world of prison system-hired psychologists they are encouraged and allowed to vent their innate middle-class prejudices and hatred of the poor and most marginalised confident in the knowledge they will never be held accountable.
In the summer of 2010 the Parole Board informed Glenochil Prison in Stirlingshire that a hearing was to be held to review my continuing imprisonment after 30 years and as part of that process a psychological report would be required to assess my current state of mind and level of risk to the public. A senior forensic psychologist based at Glenochil, Kirsty Halliday, was asked to write the report. Halliday had no intention of writing an unbiased and impartial report, and knowing what was expected of her she immediately sought out the opinion of prison officers who a short time earlier had transferred me from Glenochil for what they alleged had been my attempt to create unrest amongst other prisoners. Before ridding themselves of me the same prison officers had been the subject of investigations by the Scottish Prisons Complaints Commission and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, both instigated by me, because of their concerted attempt to undermine sentence planning procedures and the prisoner personal officer scheme at the prison. Halliday writes in the introduction to her report that she held discussions with these prison officers to get their “impressions of John Bowden’s behaviour whilst he was in the prison”. The subsequent contents of her report are an obvious reflection of their hatred and bigotry which she provides with the jargon of forensic psychology.
She describes my propensity to complain and protest in prison as a symptom of “paranoia” and a personality disorder, and elaborates on this in the following way: “His tendency to experience strong feelings of anger appears to be linked to experiences of paranoid thoughts”; “It also appears that underlying paranoid thoughts linked to ideas of conspiracies characterize his attitude to prison authority”; “He has a tendency to lapse into paranoid suspicious feelings and thoughts”; “He has an issue with authority figures reflected by his responses in prison”. The image created by Halliday in her report to a Parole Board assessing my suitability for release is one of a border-line mentally ill prisoner with a paranoia fuelled hatred of authority and a propensity for physical violence; she claimed that I had been “consistently violent” whilst in prison. In fact, my prison records show that over 30 years I had committed just 3 minor physical assaults against prison staff, the last one almost 20 years ago. Of course Halliday omits any reference to my physical ill-treatment in jail, especially a successful civil action that I launched in 1990 following my sustained beating-up by prison officers at Winson Green jail in Birmingham. Her dishonesty extends itself to blatant lies and twisting of facts; she claims in one place that I was transferred from Castle Huntly Prison in 2008 because I had formed what she described as an “inappropriate relationship with a female social worker” at the prison. In fact, it was what the administration at Castle Huntley claimed was my connection to a “terrorist organisation” (the Anarchist Black Cross) that provoked my transfer from the prison. The Health Professionals Council is now investigating the more flagrant distortion of facts in Halliday’s report.
On the 11th March the Parole Board opened it’s hearing at Edinburgh Prison and began to hear witnesses, but adjourned mid-way through the proceedings because Halliday failed to appear. Glenochil jail was contacted and a video link-up facility offered to Halliday via which to give her evidence and be cross-examined but she refused. It might now be necessary for the Parole Board to request that the Secretary of State for Scotland issues a witness summons compelling Halliday to attend the Parole hearing when it resumes in May. Obviously unable to defend the lies in her report Halliday is nevertheless arrogant enough to believe that the prison system will protect and insulate her from possible legal proceedings if she refuses to co-operate with the Parole Board . In the past Halliday has no doubt been rolled out many times by the management at Glenochil to write and lend her authority to psychological “risk-assessments” of prisoners that were little more than lies dressed up in psychological jargon, and probably never before has she had to defend or explain any of those lies, hence her cavalier attitude on this occasion when called to submit herself for cross-examination at my parole hearing.
Halliday’s behaviour is in fact typical of prison psychologists generally, a group that over the last decade or so has been enormously empowered as the Parole Board and criminal justice system’s obsession with the future potential risk of prisoners has increased dramatically. Within the prison system itself the massive proliferation of psychology based and run behaviour modification courses and programmes has become a veritable industry giving prison psychologists a dictatorial degree of power over prisoners, as well as providing them with enormous career opportunities and financial rewards. Within such a milieu of vested personal and occupational interest and common institutional purpose with ordinary prison staff the professional integrity and independence of prison based psychologists is fatally flawed and compromised. The wide scale use of middle class professionals like psychologists to legitimize the repression of prisoners of course breaches all ethical standards and should be exposed, challenged and opposed by all those interested and involved in the struggle for prisoners’ rights.
HMP Edinburgh / March 2011
33 Stenhouse Road