Saturday, March 08, 2014

A Nettlesome Problem

For male prisoners with a history of violent behavior the catalyst frequently is perceived disrespect, which leads to shame, which in turn triggers violence. Writer Jonathan Asser "used to struggle with his extreme rage until he learned to master it – and discovered a skill for calming violent prisoners." [bold added]
With the exception of psychotic prisoners being treated through the healthcare department, every violent incident I have ever come across in prison could be traced back to shame and the feeling of being disrespected. Conventional programmes working outside the heat of the moment studiously avoid the crucial shame trigger. I worked with it every day. I came up with the name Shame/Violence Intervention (SVI) to describe my approach.
Many prisoners are able to give the "correct" answer when a staff psychologist poses a hypothetical question, such as "what if you see a man talking to your girlfriend?" In SVI therapy Jonathan Asser publicly embarrasses the prisoners and trains them how to recognize and control their responses.

His approach is difficult, slow, expensive (in terms of trained therapists' time) and successful. Unfortunately, it's not easily scalable and demonstrates why breaking the cycle of violence is such a nettlesome problem.

[Update - 3/9/14: Jonathan Asser's screenplay, Starred Up, was nominated for eight British Independent Film awards.]

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