Custody vs care: Attitudes of prison staff to self-harm in women prisoners-a qualitative study

Vicky Short, Jayne Cooper, Jenny Shaw, Cassandra Kenning, Kathryn Abel, Carolyn Chew-Graham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Self-harm rates amongst the UK female prison population are disproportionately high. Prison staff potentially have a crucial role in the identification and management of female prisoners at risk; despite this there has been little focus on the attitudes of prison staff towards female prisoners who self-harm. This paper presents such an explanation; qualitative methods were used, with semi-structured interviews with eight prison officers and five healthcare staff from one female prison in the North of England. Interviews were tape recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed iteratively, until category saturation was achieved. The data suggests that prison staff labelled self-harm as either 'genuine' or 'non-genuine.' Women whose self-harm was perceived as non-genuine by staff were viewed as 'rational manipulators,' self-harming to achieve particular ends. Staff described feelings of resentment towards these women. Most staff reported that balancing their welfare and security functions was difficult, feeling most confident with their custody role. They described feeling untrained and unsupported in their welfare role, and pressurised due to time constraints and reported low staffing levels. This combination of factors left most staff reporting lack of confidence in dealing with women who self-harm. © 2009 Taylor & Francis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)408-426
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


    • Prison staff
    • Prisoners
    • Prisons
    • Self-harm
    • Women


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