Category Archives: prison officers

At Winson Green

Gatehouse (dismantled and removed to storage)

Dalrymple writes that he arrived at HMP Birmingham in 1990, to take up a job as a psychiatrist and medical officer. He came to have a high regard for the prison officers, who were

intelligent, shrewd and often kindly.

It was, he says,

out of the question that they should cower in their offices for fear of the inmates, as reported in August 2018. They were brave.

New gatehouse

A vital factor, Dalrymple points out, in the successful management of any prison is

the morale of the staff. If morale is low, the prisoners easily take over, and it is abundantly obvious (as any prisoner will tell you) that the worst prisons, the ones most to be feared, are those in which the prisoners, not the officers, are in control: which in effect means the rule of psychopaths. The prisoners may pretend that they hate the officers, but they know that the officers are what stands between them and hell.

He remembers one officer who was accused of cruelty but on whom no one would inform, though they did not approve of what he did.

I went with him once into a cell in which a prisoner was having an epileptic fit and he said in a stentorian voice, ‘Don’t you do that in front of the Doctor!

Britain, Dalrymple notes, has the highest rate of violent crime in Western Europe. The chief problem is

the long-term failure, lasting more than half a century, of the British state to perform one of its primary functions: the keeping of the peace.

The human rights of psychotic patients

Buddha-like calm: R.D. Laing

Dalrymple explains that as the law stands in Britain, prison doctors

are not permitted to give treatment against a patient’s will, except under the direst emergency, for fear that they might abuse such power and forcibly sedate whomever they choose contrary to the patient’s human rights.

Hence psychotic patients

are kept in prison hospitals for months without any treatment, taking part in an interesting if not altogether pleasing experiment in the natural history of psychosis.

Recently Dalrymple observed a psychotic patient for several weeks, who

  • addressed the world night and day through his prison window in words of muddled religious exaltation
  • refused all food on the grounds that it was poisoned, his flesh melting away before my eyes
  • attacked anyone who came within reach
  • painted religious slogans on the walls of his cell with his excrement, imparting a nauseating fæculent smell to the entire hospital

It might be alleged, says Dalrymple,

that he behaved in so disturbed a fashion because he was incarcerated, and that his conduct was (in the opinion of R.D. Laing) a meaningful and enlightened response to his terrible social situation, and that he, of all the 1,400 prisoners in the prison, was acting in the most appropriate way. But this would be not only to ignore his medical history but also the fact that he was incarcerated because he had viciously and without provocation attacked a 79-year-old woman in a church, injuring her badly while reciting verses from the Bible, which suggests that his disturbed mental state preceded his incarceration and was not a consequence of it.

Dalrymple checked the situation with lawyers.

Although he had a fully documented history of psychosis and an entirely favourable response to treatment, attested to by both doctors and relatives (who said that when treated he was a pleasant and intelligent man), I was not entitled, in the name of human rights, to treat him against his will. In the name of human rights, the prison officers and the other prisoners had to endure weeks of revolting air, as well as disturbed nights in which sleep was all but impossible.

The doctors to whom Dalrymple proposed to send the patient

accepted the conditions in which he lived with Buddha-like calm that would have been admirable had the suffering been theirs. Only the prison officers, among the most despised of all public servants, seemed to be moved by the scandal. The doctors were so inured to such situations that they accepted it as normal and nothing to get excited about. The shortage of beds and the administrative difficulties that this shortage caused had steadily eroded their common humanity.

It was only when Dalrymple threatened to expose the scandal publicly, and had taken photographs of the man’s cell and said he would send them to the government minister responsible for prisons (a proceeding against the rules, but supported by the prison warden, who did not want his prison turned into a surrogate lunatic asylum), that the man was finally found a place in a hospital, where he could be treated.

Britain’s bone-headed prison system

Many British jails, writes Dalrymple, are characterised by

  • squalor, moral and physical
  • brutality
  • lack of any rehabilitative function whatsoever

Harmless convicts are sometimes sent to

wings with the worst criminals, some of them in the Hannibal Lecter class. The prison officers are indifferent to their plight, when they do not derive pleasure from it.

Rooftop protest at HMP Cordingley

Daily life, Dalrymple notes,

is made up of arbitrary regulations of which new and inexperienced prisoners are not informed: they have to discover them for themselves as best they can. This gives the officers opportunities for sadistic nit-picking.

HMP Coldingley is an example of a jail where the prisoners rule. Here, says Dalrymple, is

a Hobbesian world, where each is the enemy of all, and every moveable object is a potential weapon. The majority of prisoners are black, and each is allowed his ghetto-blaster.

The resultant noise is a torment.

Dalrymple points out that there is

  • bullying
  • violence
  • extortion
  • suicide attempts

Drugs may be smuggled into British prisons with the greatest of ease.

There is a complete lack of effort to prevent it: it amounts to complicity on the part of the prison system.

Prison bureaucracy is

casually inhumane, imposing pettifogging rules while ignoring gross abuses. The most ruthless and psychopathic rule the roost.

This is also, it occurs to Dalrymple,

how our unimprisoned underclass lives, where the Housing Department and the Department of Social Security are the prison warders. For our underclass, England is a vast HMP Coldingley.

Suppression of rock music in public places

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 07.55.25Such a step, writes Dalrymple,

while very tempting, is not the solution. What is required is the elevation of public taste.

This, he says, with characteristic understatement,

might take some time.

When Dalrymple suggested that the prison where he works

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 07.47.07should echo to the sound of Gregorian chant,

the prison officers

thought it was a joke.

Rock music, Dalrymple points out,

exerts a brutalising effect, and if it is not the sole cause of many of the unpleasantnesses of modern life, it aggravates them.

It has become

insidiously pervasive in our urban environment. It is like a poisonous gas that a malign authority pumps into our atmosphere, whose doleful effect, and probably purpose, is to destroy our capacity to converse, to concentrate, to reflect. It agitates us, keeps us constantly on the move, makes us impulsive and lacking in judgement.

Sadly, resistance has been feeble.

Defenders and advocates of high culture have been diffident about their claims, and reluctant to resist the relentless advance of a debased popular culture.

Dalrymple, honorary president of the Society for the Suppression of Rock Music, is pessimistic, saying that despite the best of intentions, the society will have

the same practical effect as the Society for the Suppression of Vice, namely nil.

The lash

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 23.22.47Its administration and physical properties

You can find out about the Victorian regulations on this in Pit of Shame: The Real Ballad of Reading Gaol (2007) by Anthony Stokes. Dalrymple points out in his foreword that

much of what goes on in any prison is very funny.

The humorous side is captured well by Stokes, along with all

the horror, the misery, the difficulties, the successes and failures

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 08.54.56of imprisonment in Britain. Dalrymple says he does not think anybody could read the book

and conclude that the harsh treatment of prisoners is either a good idea or morally justified.

Bureaucratic mentality

H.M. Prison Winson Green, where Dalrymple was a specialist

H.M. Prison Birmingham

Speaking grosso modo, Dalrymple writes that prison officers he worked with were more astute and kinder than staff at psychiatric hospitals.

They had not had their heads filled with psychological jargon. When they came to me to tell me that a prisoner was not himself, or was acting strangely, or that ‘he’s not your typical con’, I soon learnt to take their observations seriously.

Rampton Secure Hospital

Rampton Secure Hospital

Dalrymple says that prisoners he knew were in general

far more afraid of psychiatric hospitals than they were of prisons. One of their most plaintive cries was, ‘You’re not nutting me off, are you, doctor?’

In official reports of disastrous cases in psychiatric hospitals, salient phrases include ‘lessons have been learnt’ and ‘errors of communication’.

One could write almost all reports on disastrous cases before they have occurred. By ‘lessons have been learnt’ is meant ‘it will be exactly the same next time’.

The lesson that has been learnt

is always that a new form, longer and more complex than the old, should be introduced. The form-filling gets in the way of genuine contact with or concern for the patient. The form-filling is the work itself.