Institutional responses to self-injurious behavior among inmates

J Correct Health Care. 2009 Apr;15(2):129-41; quiz 159-60. doi: 10.1177/1078345809331444.


To date, little research has systematically investigated perceptions of mental health professionals regarding motivations for self-injury among prison inmates. To help fill this gap, the authors used descriptive techniques to examine self-injurious behavior among inmates from the perspective of correctional mental health professionals. A quantitative survey assessed perceptions of mental health staff regarding etiology, motivations, and manifestations of self-injury. A qualitative interview component was used to explicate responses from the survey. Inmate cutting, scratching, opening old wounds, and inserting objects were the most commonly witnessed behaviors. Findings suggest that self-injury occurred regularly and that a subset of inmates are responsible for recurrent events. Mental health professionals perceived the motivation for inmate self-injury to be both manipulative and a coping mechanism. They described current management strategies and corresponding needs for training and resources.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Motivation
  • Perception
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Prisons / organization & administration*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / etiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / therapy*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications