Research Seminar - Professor Joe Sim, Liverpool John Moores University
Title: 'Help Me Please': Terror, Trauma and Self-Inflicted Deaths in Prison
The words ‘Help me please’ were written by Tony Paine in a poignant letter to his mother before he killed himself in Liverpool prison in February 2018. Tony’s death was one of 325 prison deaths that occurred in England and Wales in 2018, 92 of which were self-inflicted (inquest.org.uk). This paper critically examines deaths in prison from an abolitionist perspective. In doing so, it raises a number of critical questions concerning the nature of prison life and death, and the state's role in these deaths. First, it will challenge the state’s definition of reality, its 'truth', with its emphasis on the pathological nature of the individuals who kill themselves. Second, it will focus on the dehumanizing nature of the prison environment, and the brutal exercise of penal power, which provide the psychologically corrosive context in which individuals choose to kill themselves. Third, it will argue that it is not only the physical violence of the state that kills. The systemic indifference of state agents can also induce deaths in prison. Fourth, it will critique the state’s definition of dangerousness by asking for whom is the prison dangerous? Finally, it will focus on what should be done to hold to account those responsible for prison deaths and how developing structures of democratic accountability can ultimately contribute to abolishing prisons in their present form.
Joe Sim is Professor of Criminology at Liverpool John Moores University and the Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion. He is the author of a number of books on the prison system including British Prisons (with Mike Fitzgerald) Medical Power in Prisons and Punishment and Prisons. He is also a trustee of the charity INQUEST which is the only charity providing expertise on state related deaths, and their investigation, to bereaved people, lawyers, advice and support agencies, the media and parliamentarians.