Justifications of detainment: from ideology to practice

Pamela Inglis, Colin Dale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes the ideas related to forensic practice with people with learning disabilities through a study that explores the apparent ‘truths’ about people with learning disabilities who are detained in forensic settings (referred to here as ‘the men’) and the staff who work with them by an analysis the dialogue contained in retrospective data from interviews and focus groups. The men in these settings are subject to intense stigma and disadvantage; socially and legally. Not only are they categorised as having a learning disability, but also have the added stigma of being offenders, and commonly having mental health issues that expose them to the worst of myths surrounding learning disability; such as the possibility of being viewed as ‘dangerous monsters and sex fiends’ (French & Swain, 2008). Similarly, but to a lesser degree, forensic nurses are stigmatised and subject to strict laws, policies and practices and stereotyped as prison wardens and ‘tough guys’. These ideas may be exposed and challenged through studying the discourses in the dialogue. Therefore, the general research questions included the following. • What are the discourses related to learning disability and forensic practice? • What ideologies underpin and justify forensic practice? This paper is primarily concerned with the way that the staff and the men experience the medium secure unit (MSU) and their views as to the advantages and disadvantages of secure care. The findings generally suggest that the men and the staff are very positive about their lives. They report that the men have many attributes and talents, and view having a learning disability as an advantage at times; the staff enjoy their work and have good relationships with the men. Paradoxically1, there are also negative discourses identified, some of which permeate from macro ideologies into policy and practice to justify the men’s treatment in the MSU. The analysis showed that despite the certainty that many feel about the justifications for holding men with learning disabilities in secure settings, many paradoxes exist in the discourses in this setting, which question the validity of official knowledge in this area – this is essentially a Foucauldian idea (Foucault, 1975). Foucault’s ideas on the way that knowledge and practice may be challenged are important to this paper.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-57
JournalJournal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


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