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Week 17: Prison Health and Medicine

Lecturer: Max Hodgson

Historically, prisons have been sites of ill-health. Those who enter prison are often in poor health, and the conditions of prisoners – mentally and physically – tend to deteriorate during their time in incarceration. This week reflects on some of the central issues relating to health and medicine in prison, with a particular focus on the 19th and 20th centuries. In addressing the longstanding issue of ‘less eligibility’, the lecture contextualises the question of whether it is possible to achieve a ‘healthy prison’.

Discussion/Essay Questions:

  • Historically, why has health been so poor in places of incarceration?

  • Account for the changing relationships between punishment, deterrence, reform and health in prisons across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

  • Is the role of the Prison Medical Service purely medical?
  • Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you think broader societal issues of health can impact upon the aims and objectives of carceral institutions?

Required Readings:

Philip Priestley, Victorian Prison Lives: English Prison Biography, 1830-1914 (1985), pp. 168-192 (chapter 8: ‘Sick’)

N.Ismail, ‘The state of English prisons and the urgent need for reform’, The Lancet Public Health 5, 7 (2020), e368-69

R. Smith, ‘History of the Prison medical Services’, British Medical Journal 287, 10 (1983), e1786-1788

Dominique Moran, Yvonne Jewkes, Eleanor March and Matt Houlbrook, ‘The Long Shadow of the Victorian Prison’, Prison Service Journal 256 (2021), pp. 10-14

‘Covid rules in prison blocking rehabilitation’, The Guardian, 4 October 2020 []

Further Readings:

Joe Sim, Medical Power in Prisons: The Prison Medical Service in England, 1774-1989 (1990), pp. 1-40 [chapters 1 & 2]

Martin Weiner, Reconstructing the Criminal: Culture, Law, and Policy in England, 1830-1914 (1990)

Anne Hardy, ‘Development of the Prison Medical Service, 1774-1895’, in Richard Creese, W. F. Bynum and J. Bearn (eds), The Health of Prisoners: Historical Essays (1995), pp. 59-82

W.J. Gray, ‘The English Prison Medical Service: its historical background and more recent developments’, in Maeve O’Connor and G.E.W. Wolstenholme (eds), Medical Care of Prisoners and Detainees (1973), pp. 130-139

E. Stürup-Toft et al., ‘Looking behind the bars: emerging health issues for people in prison’, British Medical Bulletin 125, 1 (2018), pp. 15-23

Kathryn M. Weston, Louella R. McCarthy, Isobelle Barrett Meyering, Stephen Hampton and Tobias Makinnon, ‘Health behind bars: can exploring the history of prison health systems impact future policy?’, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 54 (2018), pp. 50-52

Louella McCarthy et al., ‘History, Medicine, and Incarceration’ [Special Issue], Health and History 22, 1 (2020)

Michael Ignatieff, A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850 (1978)

Richard Smith, Prison Health Care (1984)

Catherine Cox and Hilary Marland, ‘“He Must Die or Go Mad in This Place”: Prisoners, Insanity, and the Pentonville Model Prison Experiment, 1842-52’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 92 (2018), pp. 78-109

Catherine Cox and Hilary Marland, ‘“Unfit for reform or punishment”: mental disorder and discipline in Liverpool Borough Prison in the late nineteenth century’, Social History 44 (2019), pp. 173-201

Catherine Cox and Hilary Marland, ‘Broken Minds and Beaten Bodies: Cultures of Harm and the Management of Mental Illness in Mid- to Late Nineteenth Century English and Irish Prisons’, Social History of Medicine 31 (2018), pp. 688-710

Stephen Watson, ‘Malingerers, the “weakminded” criminal and the “moral imbecile”: how the English prison medical officer became an expert in mental deficiency, 1880-1930’, in Michael Clark and Catherine Crawford (eds) Legal Medicine in History (1994), pp. 223-41

Yvonne Jewkes, Dominique Moran and Jennifer Turner, ‘Just add water: Prisons, therapeutic landscapes and healthy blue space’, Criminology and Criminal Justice 20, 4 (2019), pp. 381-398

Janet Weston, Medicine, the Penal System and Sexual Crimes in England, 1919-1960s: Diagnosing Deviance (2017)

Sean McConville, English Local Prisons, 1860–1900: next only to death (1995)

Stephen Hobhouse and A. Fenner Brockway (eds), English Prisons To-Day: Being the Report of the Prison System Enquiry Committee (1922)

Julie Vail Brown, ‘Psychiatrists and the State in Tsarist Russia’, in Stanley Cohen and Andrew Scull (eds), Social Control and the State (1983), pp. 267-287

Dan Healey, ‘Russian and Soviet forensic psychiatry: Troubled and troubling’, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 37 (2014), pp. 71-81