Sterchele, Luca (2019) Il carcere e il suo doppio. Il sapere psichiatrico in carcere tra istanze terapeutiche e logiche di governo. [Ph.D. thesis]
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Abstract (italian or english)
This work takes steps from a circular by the prison administration, which has been sent to all prison directors some years ago. The letter clearly present a growing concern with prisoners described as “psychiatric”, who have been held responsible for several aggressions on prison staff or other inmates. In that circular the prison administration expressed the problem (growing presence of so-called “psychiatric prisoners”), framing it explicitly as a matter of order and security. In doing so, they argue that the healthcare service should collaborate strictly with the prison staff in order to guarantee security; and suggests that, when it is believed to be necessary, they should together “valorise the tools provided by the system” – that is, providing for the transfer of the prisoner to a psychiatric unit (specifying very emphatically that this should not be used as a disciplinary sanction).
This research, thus, moves from a very explorative question: what is going on here? After some months of exploratory observation and interviews, some key points have been identified.
The first aim of this study is to understand the features standing behind the “psychiatric issue” (or “new asylum”) narrative: this mean that we should try to understand the reasons why such a problem is being posed now, when it is very well known that psychological problems have been a major issue in prison since its very existence. Most of the staff explains it recalling the recent closure of Forensic Mental Hospitals (2015), adopting a narrative which is best described as the “new asylum thesis” (cfr. Ben Mosche, 2017). As it has been the case with the closure of the Asylums (began in 1978 but concluded in the mid 90’s), it is argued, many psychiatric patients are now “left to themselves” by the territorial psychiatric services, being taken in charge by the institution “who never says no”: the prison. I will try to look critically to such argument, trying to explain the phenomena in a more complex way.
Secondly, the thesis aims to understand the ways in which the problem is being currently managed. This involves two related issues: 1) The ordinary collaboration between prison and medical staff in the pursuit of the institutional goals: in this sense it is important to notice how the symbolic and practical traits which are typical of the “prison cultures” (Vianello, 2018; Torrente, 2018) are interiorized and reproduced by the healthcare professionals working in prison. 2) The study of the extraordinary strategies of govern, which are implemented through the circulation of some “psychiatric prisoners” all around a complex and fragmented carceral-psychiatric archipelago. In this sense it will be possible to understand how the disabling effects of the prison become embodied in the prisoners themselves, being reproduced far behind the prison walls in an heterogeneous set of circumstances.
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