Supporting imprisoned women who self-harm: exploring prison staff strategies

Tammi Walker, Jenny Shaw, Lea Hamilton, Clive Turpin, Catherine Reid, Kathryn Abel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the experiences of prison staff working with imprisoned women who self-harm in English prisons. In this small-scale study, 14 prison staff in three English prisons were interviewed to examine the strategies currently used by them to support imprisoned women who self-harm. 

Design/methodology/approach: Thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) was used to identify three key themes: “developing a relationship”, “self-help strategies” and “relational interventions”. 

Findings: Many staff expressed some dissatisfaction in the techniques available to support the women, and felt their utility can be restricted by the prison regime. 

Research limitations/implications: This study suggests that there is currently a deficit in the provision of training and support for prison staff, who are expected to fulfil a dual role as both custodian and carer of imprisoned women. Further research into prison staff’s perception of the training currently available could highlight gaps between current theory and practice in the management of self-harm and thus indicate content for future training programmes. Research exploring the impact of working with imprisoned women who self-harm is suggested to identify strategies for supporting staff. It must be acknowledged that this is a small-scale qualitative study and the findings are from only three prisons and may not apply to staff in other settings. 

Originality/value: Currently few studies have focussed on the perspective of prison staff. This study is one of very few studies which focusses on the techniques and resources available to support the women, from the perspective of the prison staff.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-186
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Criminal Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2016
Externally publishedYes


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