Non-suicidal self-harm amongst incarcerated men: a qualitative study

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to understand the needs and motivations of incarcerated men who self-harm with no apparent suicidal intent. These have received little attention in research and policy, despite men accounting for a high and increasing proportion of self-harm in prisons.
Design/methodology/approach – Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 adult male prisoners with a recent history or thoughts of non-suicidal self-harm. The interviews were analysed drawing on principles of thematic analysis and discourse analysis.
Findings – Against a backdrop of early traumatic experiences and more recent adverse events (including prison-related ones), self-harm was described by many as a desperate – but meaningful – coping strategy; both a means of releasing tension, sadness and frustration, and of being heard in an unresponsive system.
Originality/value – These findings echo those of research conducted with women (including women prisoners) who self-harm, but challenge some of the more negative ways in which non-suicidal male prisoner self-harm has been portrayed in the (scant) previous literature. As well as pointing to the need for greater awareness of the complex needs of men in prisons, they underscore the importance of (also) exploring – and perhaps addressing – the issue of self-harm separately from suicide, and of striving to make prisons, as well as prisoners, “healthier” and better able to cope with pressure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-172
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Criminal Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2016


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