Peter Sedgwick

Doing Time

(Spring 1966)

Peter Sedgwick, Doing Time, International Socialism (1st series), No.24, Spring 1966, p.37 (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Fact and Fiction in Psychology, H.J. Eysenck, Penguin, 5s

A Cure for Crime, Kathleen J. Smith, Duckworth, 12s 6d

Eysenck’s Pelican completes the trilogy begun by Uses and Abuses of Psychology and Sense and Nonsense in Psychology. As compared with the previous volumes, it is orientated towards social-action research; behaviour therapy of the neuroses, the psychology of accidents and the origins of crime are covered at length in separate chapters. The whole tone is therefore somewhat less destructive than that of Eysenck’s other popular writings, although there is an excellent attack on Freud’s case-study methods. For the first time this author’s generally impersonal stance is relaxed to allow some emphasis upon problems of clinical involvement and identification with the patient; ethical dilemmas arising from court referrals are also broached, although somewhat timidly. All in all, this type of popularisation is a healthy corrective to the intemperate speculations of psychodynamic theory (whether Freudian or existentialist) which unfortunately represents the general public’s first notion of what ‘psychology’ constitutes.

As usual, however, Eysenck’s reportage is selective and his concepts slick. We are given favourable accounts of the experimental findings that suit his ideas, and none at all of those that do not. Nobody would guess from his discussion of these topics that some conditioning experiments do not distinguish introverts from extroverts, and that surveys of British prisons have on the whole failed to reveal any evidence of extraverted tendencies in delinquents. Eysenck’s advocacy of behaviour therapy is, as usual, totally uncritical; recent evaluations of this approach have yielded a success rate closely similar to that for psychodynamic techniques. Eysenck’s contention that training in learning theory would result in a larger recovery rate is not borne out by a recent study in which no differences were found between behaviour-therapy successes produced by practitioners from Eysenck’s own department and those managed by less knowledgeable therapists.

Eysenck is particularly unconvincing when he discusses crime. What he has to explain is not, as he thinks, the relative inefficacy of criminal justice (which he ascribes largely to the temporal delay between offence and punishment) but its general effectiveness; 80 per cent of all first admissions to prison are never reconvicted, though imprisonment declines as an effective dissuader with subsequent spells inside. Kathleen Smith’s little book is a plan for the replacement of the present determinate sentence (geared to ‘doing your bird’) and the indeterminate Borstal sentence (geared to conning the staff) by the ‘self-determinate sentence.’ Under this system, all offences would be translated into monetary equivalents, in terms of compensation required, or of the value of property stolen, with extra increments for persistency, nuisance-character, etc. This amount would have to be earned by the criminal in prison before he was discharged, and a normal working week with trade-union rates (and trade-union membership) would be introduced instead of the present farcical arrangements for token labour at token wages. It may be doubted whether the self-determinate sentence could ever be ‘a cure for crime’, though it might deter some of the more calculating professional criminals and break up the solidarity of organised gangs. Or it might not; the author seems too confident that her proposals would work miracles to the near-impossible task of influencing the decisions of persistently deviant people. However, as an indictment of present penal institutions, and of the mythology of corrective ‘treatment’, the book is invaluable. Its suggestions would have the interesting effect of transforming a section of the lumpenproletariat, at least temporarily, into an integral part of the labour movement. Some of her ideas, such as annual holidays-with-pay for prisoners (already available to the inmates of Broadmoor) are long overdue. Kathleen Smith was a prison officer and subsequently an Assistant Governor at Holloway Prison. Her proposals, based on bitter experience, could at least not be worse than the present system.

Peter Sedgwick


Last updated on 19.10.2006