Grendon Tales: Stories from a Therapeutic Community

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Waterside Press, Jan 1, 2001 - Psychology - 232 pages
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For anyone trying to understand what 'drives' some people to commit serious, heinous, sometimes unspeakable crimes - and what is achievable through therapy - the first-hand 'tales' in this book merit close study. For over 40 years Grendon Prison with its 'Therapeutic Communities' of high security 'residents' has remained unique among Britain's prisons. In 2000 researcher Ursula Smartt was given extensive access to interview residents and prison staff - governors, prison officers, therapists and probation officers - and to observe their day-to-day routines. The result is Grendon Tales, a perceptive, insightful and at times shocking account of life inside a unique and world famous establishment. Grendon houses many dangerous, disturbed and disruptive criminals (ranging from armed robbers to paedophiles, to rapists and murderers). For many of them, it is 'the last chance saloon' - a final opportunity to alter their thinking patterns and behaviour and maybe to convince the authorities that their security category should be downgraded with a view to future safe release back into the community. Even now, the approach remains unique - as can be seen from comparisons with Europe and a new therapeutic regime due to start in 2001 at Britain's newest privately managed prison, HMP Dovegate. At times the author found the experience overwhelming, but ultimately it is her captivating style, eye for detail and sensitivity to victims of crime which allow her to avoid the sensational and to write powerfully about matters which might otherwise prove too raw and distressing.

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A brave and courageous woman talking to these disturbed criminals. The book was certainly named appropriately, because being my cynical self, they appeared extremely clever and were well used to telling tales. However, it was the "outing" by the other criminals in the group sessions that I think really exposed their psychopathy. The saying "it takes one to know one" seems to me to apply. Of course I have no knowledge of Freud or psychology / psychiatry, but I thought the studies by Freud's daughter and the Klein psychologist were more valuable than Freud. I also thought one of the prisoners's comments that the history of him getting off with cautions all the time until he finally got the heavy sentence did not in fact do him any favours was an important point in respect of sentencing policy. Maybe there should be segregated prisons for first time offenders, so they do not learn the tricks of the hardened criminals? The psychology tests mentioned would be interesting to do. I really enjoyed the book, it was an eye opener. 

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About the author (2001)

Ursula Smartt has lectured in law, criminology and social policy (prisons) for more than twenty years at higher education establishments. She holds an impressive track record of research in both law and criminology and was awarded a visiting professorship at the German Max Planck Institute in Freiburg in Comparative Criminal Law in 2001. She has published five single authored books. Her long track record as independent prison researcher with UK and international ministries of justice include Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary, the USA, Canada, India, New South Wales (Australia) and the Turks & Caicos Islands. Her latest publication is Media and Entertainment Law Routledge, 2011, the first book to include superinjunctions. Other areas of research include mercy killing and euthanasia and domestic violence. She is a magistrate on the Surrey Bench at Guildford.

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