‘Help Me Please’: Terror, Trauma and Self-Inflicted Deaths in Prison

The Criminal and Social Justice Research Cluster, School of Social Work and Social Policy, University of Strathclyde, in association with SCCJR, are hosting a public lecture delivered by Professor Joe Sim, of Liverpool John Moores University. Doors open at 4:30pm and a light buffet is provided. The lecture will commence at 5.30pm and will be followed by a Question and Answer session, and a wine reception.

Title: ‘Help Me Please’: Terror, Trauma and Self-Inflicted Deaths in Prison

Abstract: Tony Paine wrote the words ‘Help Me Please’ in a letter to his mother before he killed himself in Liverpool prison in February 2018. Figures compiled by the charity INQUEST indicate that Tony’s death was one of 245 prison deaths that occurred in England and Wales between January and October 2018, 65 of which were self-inflicted Altogether, between 1990 and September 2019, nearly 5000 prisoners died in prisons in England and Wales. Over 2100 of these deaths were self-inflicted.

This lecture critically examines this issue from an abolitionist theoretical and political perspective. In doing so, it raises a number of critical questions concerning the nature of life, death and state violence. First, it focuses 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. Second, it challenges the state’s definition of reality with its emphasis on the pathological nature of the individuals who kill themselves. Third, it argues that it is not only the physical violence of the state that kills but also the systemic indifference by state servants can also induce deaths in prison. Fourth, it critiques the state’s definition of dangerousness by asking for whom is the prison dangerous? Finally, it concludes by focusing on the lack of democratic accountability and the culture of state immunity and impunity that underpins these deaths and asks what should be done to hold to account those responsible for them?

Biography: Joe Sim is Professor of Criminology, Liverpool John Moores University. He was a member of the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties and is currently a Trustee of the charity INQUEST which campaigns around the slogan ‘truth, justice and accountability’ in relation to state-related deaths or where wider issues of state and corporate accountability are in question, including Hillsborough and Grenfell. He is the author of Punishment and Prisons, Medical Power in Prisons, Prisons Under Protest (with Phil Scraton and Paula Skidmore) and British Prisons (with Mike Fitzgerald).

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