Responding to repetitive, non-suicidal self-harm in an English male prison: Staff experiences, reactions, and concerns




This study considers how those who work in prisons are affected by and respond to repetitive self-harm of male prisoners. The perspectives of correctional staff are often overlooked in research that considers self-harming prisoners. As prison staff have regular, potentially daily contact with prisoners who self-harm, it is important to consider the ways in which they respond to this aspect of their job, both in terms of their own and prisoners' well-being.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with prison staff and explored using techniques of thematic analysis.


Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 30 correctional staff – 15 custodial officers and 15 health care staff – to explore their experiences, responses to, and ways of coping with non-suicidal, repetitive self-harm.


Findings indicate high levels of frustration, tensions between health care and custodial staff, feelings of powerlessness, and low sense of job control.


We set the tasks of prison staff within the wider contexts of work-stress literature and forensic practice. The implications of these findings are discussed in terms of prisoner and officer well-being, secure custody, and the potential limitations both of institutional resourcing and the methodology employed within this study.