To read this content please select one of the options below:

Negotiating barriers: prisoner and staff perspectives on mental wellbeing in the open prison setting

Kara Danks (Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)
Alexandria Bradley (Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 17 October 2017

Issue publication date: 4 January 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explore the perspectives of prisoners and prison staff in relation to mental wellbeing and the negotiation of barriers to accessing and providing support. This small-scale study includes the experiences of 11 prison staff and 9 prisoners within a Category D male prison.


A focus group was conducted with the prisoners and interviews with prison staff. Thematic analysis identified three core themes: “context enabling factors”, “barriers to accessing support for mental wellbeing” and “peer support roles”.


Prisoners conveyed a reluctance in reporting mental health issues due to the fear of being transferred to closed conditions. All staff indicated the benefits of peer support roles.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is required on a wider scale, as it is acknowledged that the findings of this study are from one prison and may not apply to other settings. Although there are barriers that may impact the reporting of mental wellbeing issues, there may be small relational steps that can be taken to address these.


Few studies exist that explore the nuances and barriers within open prisons, perhaps due to the overwhelming need within closed conditions. A context-specific approach considering early prevention strategies to support a safer prison system and successful rehabilitation is explored. The combination of prisoner and staff experiences is of value to both academia and policymakers.



Funders: one of the studies included in this research was conducted during a PhD studentship funded by the University where the author is based. The other, also a PhD studentship, is collaboratively funded by the same University and NHS England Health & Justice.

Research ethics: the two studies required ethical approval from three organisations. First, the university where the authors are based. Second, the Health Research Authority and finally the NOMS. Local-level approvals were also gained from the prison site where the data were collected.


Danks, K. and Bradley, A. (2018), "Negotiating barriers: prisoner and staff perspectives on mental wellbeing in the open prison setting", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 3-19.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles