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A literature-based intervention for women prisoners: preliminary findings

Josie Billington (Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)
Eleanor Longden (Psychosis Research Unit, Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK)
Jude Robinson (School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 19 December 2016




The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether Shared Reading (SR), a specific literature-based intervention, is transposable to a prison context and whether mental health benefits identified in other custodial and non-custodial settings were reported by women prisoners.


In all, 35 participants were recruited within an all-female maximum security prison and attended one of two weekly reading groups. Qualitative data were collected through researcher observation of the reading groups; interviews and focus group discussions with participants and prison staff; interviews with the project worker leading the reading groups; and a review of records kept by the latter during group sessions.


Attendance rates were good, with nearly half of the participants voluntarily present at =60 per cent of sessions. Two intrinsic psychological processes associated with the SR experience were provisionally identified, “memory and continuities” and “mentalisation”, both of which have therapeutic implications for the treatment of conditions like depression and personality disorder.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations included the small sample, lack of control for confounding variables, and constraints imposed on data collection by the custodial setting.


Although more controlled research is required, the findings indicate that women prisoners will voluntarily engage with SR if given appropriate support, and that the intervention has potential to augment psychological processes that are associated with increased well-being.



Author disclosure statement: no competing financial interests exist.

This study was supported by funding from the National Personality Disorder Team and is adapted from the report “An Evaluation of a Pilot Study of a Literature-Based Intervention with Women in Prison” published by the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society at the University of Liverpool. The authors would like to thank the staff of HMP Low Newton, project workers at TR, all participants who took part in the reading groups, and the generous efforts of Lindsey Dyer (Mersey Care NHS Mental Health Trust), in helping to secure the research partnership with HMP Low Newton.


Billington, J., Longden, E. and Robinson, J. (2016), "A literature-based intervention for women prisoners: preliminary findings", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 230-243.



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