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This article explores prisoners' observations of mental illness in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British prisons, recorded in memoirs published following their release. The discipline of separate confinement was lauded for its potential to improve prisoners' minds, inducing reflection and reform, when it was introduced in the 1840s, but in practice led to high levels of mental breakdown. In order to maintain the integrity of the prison system, the prison authorities played down incidences of insanity, while prison chaplains lauded the beneficent influence of cellular isolation. In contrast, as this article demonstrates, prisoners' memoirs offer insights into the prevalence of mental illness in prison, and its poor management, as well as inmates' efforts to manage mental distress. As the prison system became more closed, uniform and penal after the 1860s, the volume of such publications increased. Oscar Wilde's evocative prison writings have attracted considerable attention, but he was only one of many prison authors criticizing the penal system and decrying the damage it inflicted on the mind. Exploration of prison memoirs, it is argued, enhances our understanding of experiences of mental disorder in the underexplored context of the prison, highlighting the prisoners' voice, agency and advocacy of reform.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Journal of the history of medicine and allied sciences
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The confinement of a patient in a hospital.
Penal institutions, or places of confinement for war prisoners.
Confinement of an individual to bed for therapeutic or experimental reasons.
The period of confinement of a patient to a hospital or other health facility.
The complete summaries of the frequencies of the values or categories of a measurement made on a group of items, a population, or other collection of data. The distribution tells either how many or what proportion of the group was found to have each value (or each range of values) out of all the possible values that the quantitative measure can have.
Psychiatry is the study of mental disorders and their diagnosis, management and prevention. Conditions include schizophrenia, severe depression and panic disorders among others. There are pharmaceutical treatments as well as other therapies to help...