Working with prisoners who self-harm: a qualitative study on stress, denial of weakness, and encouraging resilience in a sample of correctional staff

Smith, H.P., Power, J., Usher, A.M., Sitren, A.H. and Slade, K. ORCID: 0000-0002-7442-4805, 2019. Working with prisoners who self-harm: a qualitative study on stress, denial of weakness, and encouraging resilience in a sample of correctional staff. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 29 (1), pp. 7-17. ISSN 0957-9664

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Abstract

Background: Rates of self‐harm are high among prisoners. Most research focuses on the vulnerable prisoner, and there is little on the impact of these behaviours on staff.

Aims: To investigate staff perceptions of self‐harming behaviours by prisoners, including their views on its causes, manifestation, prevention in institutions, and impact on them.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 administrative and 21 therapeutic prison staff who are responsible in various ways for prisoners who self‐harm. Their narratives were explored using interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Results: Despite prison staff being experienced with prisoners' self‐harming behaviours, including severe acts of self‐harm, they were apt to reject any negative impact on their own mental health or well‐being. This denial of negative impact was accompanied by perceptions of the inmate's actions being manipulative and attention seeking. Prison staff also perceived institutional responses to self‐harming behaviours by prisoners as being mixed, ambiguous, or showing preference for relying on existing suicide protocols rather than task‐specific guidance.

Conclusions: Although staff gave explanations of prisoner self‐harm in terms of “manipulative behaviour”, prisoners' self‐harm is, in fact, complex, challenging, and often severe. This staff perception may reflect denial of impact of often distressing behaviours on them personally and their own coping mechanisms. This could be feeding in to a perceived lack of clear and effective institutional responses to the self‐harm, so further research is needed to determine how staff could broaden their views, and respond more effectively to prisoners. Psychologically informed group work and/or reflective practice are among the candidates for such help for staff.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health
Creators: Smith, H.P., Power, J., Usher, A.M., Sitren, A.H. and Slade, K.
Publisher: John Wiley
Date: February 2019
Volume: 29
Number: 1
ISSN: 0957-9664
Identifiers:
NumberType
10.1002/cbm.2103DOI
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Depositing User: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 07 Jan 2019 09:37
Last Modified: 04 Jan 2020 03:00
URI: http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/35475

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