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An exploratory study of prison-based violence from the contemporary prisoner perspective

Sam Smith (Psychological Services, Serco, Staffordshire, UK)
Patricia Howie (the Psychology Department, HMP Kilmarnock, Serco Group plc, Kilmarnock, UK)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 26 December 2023

Issue publication date: 4 March 2024




Understanding and preventing prison-based violence remains a challenge for both prison professionals and academic researchers. Alongside the rising tide of prison violence, the contemporary researcher views prison violence as a social problem and something that needs to be understood from an ecological viewpoint before violence prevention strategies can be implemented. The purpose of this study was to present an exploratory investigation into the causes of violence within a Category B UK prison, its impact and the factors that contribute to violence prevention.


Adopting an ethnographic, qualitative methodology, semi-structured interviews were conducted with six prisoners to gather their individual perspectives on prison violence. Interview transcripts were analysed by the researcher using grounded theory analysis.


Results revealed that participants perceived debt as a catalyst for violence and associated a sense of “loss” with emotional violent outbursts. Furthermore, participants placed responsibility on other prisoners and staff to facilitate violence prevention outcomes by making positive changes (prisoners) and being honest, and moral within the workplace (staff). Emphasis was placed on cultural maintenance factors that appeared to promote, reinforce and maintain a violent cultural environment.

Practical implications

Including the prisoner voice in prison violence research is fundamental to understanding the complexity of the problem. Understanding the cultural environment within which violence occurs strengthens the ecological perspective. Violence prevention strategies identified in this research requires change from prisoners, staff and ultimately the wider prison system if it is to succeed in preventing violence.


Results are discussed considering their implications for future policy and practice in the context of violence prevention.



The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this paper.


Smith, S. and Howie, P. (2024), "An exploratory study of prison-based violence from the contemporary prisoner perspective", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 69-80.



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