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Incarceration and the tasks of grief: a narrative review


C. Hendry: e-mail:


Title. Incarceration and the tasks of grief: a narrative review.

Aim.  This study is a report of a narrative review to explore the challenges facing prisoners and the corrections system in the presence of the death of a significant person to the prisoner.

Background.  Death of a loved one is an important challenge, amplified for incarcerated men. There are unique aspects of incarceration that prevent prisoners from having access to usual ritual expressions and support structures.

Data sources.  A search of the CINAHL, ProQuest Medical, PubMed, EBSCO and COCHRANE databases was conducted for papers published from 1998–2007. The search terms were bereavement and prison nursing. A hand search of material specific to grief and incarceration was also undertaken.

Review methods.  A narrative technique involving reading, writing, thinking, interpreting, arguing and justifying was used to synthesize the material and create a convincing and cohesive story.

Results.  Limited research is available specifically addressing the grief experience of incarcerated individuals or the impact of unresolved grief on recidivism. However, a number of potential challenges to the grieving process in the prison system are identified in the literature, such as the prison culture of toughness and limited options for funeral attendance.

Conclusion.  Whilst the literature is scant, it is clear that issues of masculinity and culture have a strong impact on the ability of incarcerated men to resolve grief issues. More research is required to understand the impact of this on issues, such as recidivism. In the meantime, prison nurses have an important role to play in supporting prisoners who have lost a loved one during their incarceration.