Background Many mental health services now explicitly aim to support personal recovery. Are there special ethical and practical considerations for application of this model in forensic mental health services? Is there, for example, any conflict in this context between personal empowerment and risk management? Aim Our aim was to develop a model of the personal recovery processes for people needing forensic mental health services. Methods A systematic literature review was conducted and meta-synthesis applied to data from relevant papers. Results Five studies were identified through the search process and combined through meta-synthesis. Three key overarching themes were synthesised: safety and security as a necessary base for the recovery process, the dynamics of hope and social networks in supporting the recovery process and work on identity as a changing feature in the recovery process. Conclusions The themes identified provide for theoretically informed and testable developments in care that could enhance the quality of recovery and rehabilitation for offender patients through explicitly enhancing personal sense of safety, understanding the patient's sense of personal identity and their social networks and transitioning between institutional and community support.