The impact of prison staff responses on self-harming behaviours: prisoners' perspectives

Br J Clin Psychol. 2012 Mar;51(1):4-18. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8260.2010.02007.x. Epub 2011 Mar 8.


Objectives: To further understanding of how health and correctional staff responses to self-harming behaviours influence prisoners and their subsequent actions.

Design: Participant-centred, qualitative methods were used to explore the complex and under-researched perspectives of self-harming male prisoners.

Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 adult male prisoners who had engaged in repetitive, non-suicidal self-harm during their current prison sentence, or considered doing so. The interviews were analyzed drawing on principles of thematic analysis and discourse analysis.

Results: With some exceptions, prison officers, nurses, and doctors are portrayed by prisoners as being ill-prepared to deal with repetitive self-harm, often displaying actively hostile attitudes and behaviours.

Conclusions: These findings underscore the need for appropriate training, support and supervision for staff working with self-harming prisoners.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Empathy
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Hostility
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Interview, Psychological / methods
  • Male
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Prisons / organization & administration*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*