Posted on: 18 February 2019

CNWL Art Psychotherapist Jessica Collier and CNWL Psychotherapist Pamela Windham Stewart have co-edited an important new book documenting the rich and varied psychotherapeutic work undertaken by dedicated specialists at HMP Holloway.

The End of the Sentence; Psychotherapy with Female Offenders offers insightful real-life accounts and emphasises the importance of professionals finding ways of supporting one another to offer women who have entered the criminal justice system a way to leave it.

CNWL provided health care services at HMP Holloway until it’s closure in June 2016. Jessica worked as part of the innovative Psychological Therapies team for seven years providing support through individual and group art psychotherapy to a large number of troubled women.

She also collaborated with psychotherapy and psychology colleagues running groups and staff trainings and supervised student and honorary arts psychotherapists, some of whom have contributed chapters to The End of the Sentence.

Women generally commit crime in the context of poverty, addiction, violence or trauma. Following the closure of Holloway, the only women’s prison in London and the first in the city to be closed in over one hundred years, Jessica and Pamela wanted to record the important work that was conducted over many years.

Using personal testimony and case studies and screened through the lens of psychoanalytic theory, the book examines the enduring therapeutic and relational endeavour to find connection, closure and to experience a “good enough” ending with prisoners when the possibility of a positive new beginning often seemed remote. It also considers how the cultural and political discourse remains hostile towards women who are incarcerated and how this may have culminated in the closure of the prison. 

Jessica says: “This book needed to be written in response to the closure of HMP Holloway.

“However much damage and distress some of the prisoners caused in society, it is critical that we do not forget the damage and distress most women in prison have experienced themselves. They deserve to be listened to, to be challenged and they deserve to be thought about and that’s what I hope this book does.

“It speaks honestly about the experience of a group of clinicians staying and “being with” often disturbing feelings and narratives and supporting vulnerable women to understand their lives more fully. 

“As the book demonstrates, HMP Holloway was the site for pioneering and collaborative psychotherapeutic work that helped numerous women with deeply troubling backgrounds imagine the possibility of a different kind of life. 

“The closure of HMP Holloway was devastating for many but it has not meant the end of our work, which continues in other women-only secure environments. This was a deeply moving book for Pamela and I to edit. I’m thankful to the contributors, all of whom worked at HMP Holloway over the years and to the prisoners who allowed us to tell our versions of their stories. Really this is their book.”

At the launch in February, fittingly held at the Freud Museum, Michael Birnbaum QC asserted the importance of the book in educating criminal barristers and sentencing judges about the intrinsic complexities and trans-generational consequences of sending often traumatised and mentally unwell women to prison.

The End of the Sentence will prove fascinating reading for forensic psychotherapists, forensic psychologists, arts psychotherapists and criminologists, as well as anyone more broadly interested in the criminal justice system.