day-prisonofficersbelief-2003.pdf (160.29 kB)
Prison officer's beliefs regarding self-harm in prisoners : an empirical investigation
journal contributionposted on 2003-01-01, 00:00 authored by J Pannell, K Howells, Andrew Day
The prevention of self-harm and suicide in prisoners depends on good interaction between the individual prisoner and prison staff. Staff perceptions of prisoner self-harm are likely to be a crucial factor influencing this interaction. The aim of the present study was to determine correctional officers' perception of the causes and functions of self-harm, and the effects of incident severity and repetitiveness on perceptions. A sample of 76 correctional officers was presented with a vignette depicting a self-harm in which the severity and repetitiveness of the incident was systematically altered. Officers' rated both the causes and functions of the behaviour. Four attributional dimensions were identified by factor analysis. These factors related primarily to personal factors about the individual prisoner. Staff perceived the functions of self-harm to be communicative rather than to commit suicide. Perceptions were not affected by severity or repetitiveness information, except for high severity leading to a greater perception of suicidal intent. Initiatives to help staff work more effectively and therapeutically with distressed prisoners are therefore likely to impact positively upon rates of self-harm.