I’ve actually been following Sadhbh Walsh’s series on prison in the US, which has generally been excellent, but have not commented there because the whole topic pisses me off too much.
Then I just ran into this over at MSNBC.com. What we’re looking at here, if you can fucking believe it, is a photo of participants in a therapy session;
Here’s the explanatory gloss from MSNBC;
Administrative segregation prisoners take part in a group therapy session at San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, California, on June 8, 2012.
It’s hard to know what to say about this. I’m not one of those New Age woo-woos who thinks that “therapy” is a magic bullet. It can be amazingly powerful, and it can transform lives — that’s true and I’ve seen it happen — but it’s also true that some people are simply in a mental place we don’t understand and cannot reach. I’ve seen that too.
The reasons, if that’s the right word, for why this is happening are a case study in themselves. Sometime around the year 2000 a Federal Court ruled that leaving mentally ill prisoners in their cells without treatment was a violation of the “cruel and unusual” constitutional principle. Prison systems thus had to find ways to comply with what was essentially an order to provide it. Not all prison systems use the approach shown here;
Jeffrey Metzner, a Colorado psychiatrist who has advised the court-appointed special master overseeing mental healthcare in California prisons, said the enclosures offer better security and more freedom of movement than alternatives used in most states, which include handcuffing patients to their chairs or shackling an ankle to the floor. Once the inmates are inside the cage, their handcuffs are removed.
When I first read that, I smelled a rat, because it seemed obvious to me that this is about convenience for the prison staff and not about providing any sense of “freedom” in a therapeutic context. Happily my suspicions were confirmed in the next sentence, where Metzner goes into feel-good euphemism mode in defense of his cages, and tries to mitigate the problem by calling them something else;
Metzner also advised prison officials to refer to the enclosures as therapeutic modules, not cages. “The name is important, because if you call them cages, people inside might feel like animals and respond accordingly,” he said.
Jesus Christ. This man Metzner is a psychiatrist, licensed to prescribe the most powerful psychoactive “medications” on the planet, and he’s talking like a moron. At the very least he seems to be confusing mental illness with stupidity. Does he really think people are going to feel better in a cage because it’s now been renamed a fucking “therapeutic module”? And how does a psychiatrist manage to be so utterly bereft of any sense of just how sinister an approach like that is?
Good thing people in places like this wear name tags, so you can tell who’s staff and who’s an inmate. Because if we had to use behavior as the identifier, we’d be wrong at least as often as right.