Therapeutic Discipline? Reflections on the Penetration of Sites of Control by Therapeutic Discourse


  • Andrew M. Jefferson



prison life, discipline, networks & relationships of power


This article addresses the way in which therapeutic practice in an English prison creates conditions whereby both prisoners and prison officers are caught up in networks and relationships of power that contribute to the constitution of particular subjects. The development of therapeutic practice, in relation to prisons and probation, is described and contextualised. Subsequently, the practices of group therapy in operation at Grendon prison - a rather unique institution built on principles of therapeutic community – are analysed with a focus on five ”practices of moulding,” namely, naming, confession, assessment and surveillance, tolerance and participation. The argument that psychotherapy, under conditions of imprisonment, is a form of repression or social control is discussed and dismissed as too simple a model to account for the relations of power and constitutive practices that effect all participants, not only prisoners. Members of staff, as well as prisoners, are shown to be caught up in the disciplinary web. Discipline, as opposed to control, is advocated as a more appropriate concept for understanding therapeutic practices in prison. The work of Thomas Mathiesen, on the concept of synoptic power, is introduced to help illustrate these dynamics. The article represents a shift in my own thinking, from scepticism to a pragmatic idealist position, that creates space for institutions like Grendon to be imagined as potential least worst options for people convicted of offences and obliged to serve “time”. It is my hope, argued for in the article, that Grendon can be conceived of as a “visionary space” with emancipatory potential.




How to Cite

Jefferson, A. M. (2003). Therapeutic Discipline? Reflections on the Penetration of Sites of Control by Therapeutic Discourse. Outlines. Critical Practice Studies, 5(1), 55–73.