Bereavement experiences of male prisoners : grief, cumulative loss and imprisonment

Wilson, Marion

Social policy
January 2019

Thesis or dissertation

© 2019 Marion Wilson. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The central aim of this research was to explore and understand the grief experience of male prisoners as it occurs, and the impact of cumulative loss caused by death, prior to custodial sentencing. The responses of other inmates and the ways in which staff facilitated and managed prisoners’ grief were also the focus of enquiry.

The research methods used were participant observation and semi-structured interviewing. Twenty-three bereaved prisoners participated. Also involved were 23 members of staff of different occupations and grades, and three volunteers. All participants were residing or working within a male, Category C prison in the north of England.

Findings demonstrated that grief could not easily be confronted and processed as a result of: the many restraints imposed institutionally, the hegemonic culture, lack of trust and high levels of felt frustration due to constricted agency. Avoidant coping strategies were common, alongside an unwillingness to reach out for support. The evidence strongly suggests that prisoners can be at heightened risk of a more complex grief reaction than the normal population.

This study provides a major contribution to both the criminological and thanatological fields. It makes policy and other recommendations, and widens the current international debate by offering a critique of the proposed Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (APA, 2013). The narrative accounts have produced evidence of negative and positive stressors uniquely found within the prison setting, demonstrating in a new way how they can impact upon the grieving process, using Stroebe and Schut’s (1999, 2016) Dual Process Model. Recognising excessive grief reactions, a theory is proposed – ‘Prisoners’ Grief Overload theory.’ Finally, a proposition is put forward for future inquiry: a significant bereavement can become a factor in putative desistance from crime if grief stressors are adequately confronted and processed, and a new individualised truth is attained.

Department of Social Policy, The University of Hull
Sponsor (Organisation)
University of Hull
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