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Re-imagining risk reduction: Oral health peer coaching as a framework for enhancing psycho-social wellbeing and reducing risk for people in custody

School of Education and Social Work

About the Project

The aim of this project is to determine if prisoner peer health coaching can be linked to lower levels of risk in the community and ultimately the successful transitions from prison into the community.
This project draws upon the work of Professor Ruth Freeman (School of Dentistry) and colleagues and the development of the oral health intervention programme for the Scottish Government, called ‘Mouth Matters’ (Freeman et al 2018). This projects served to illustrate the links between oral health and psychosocial functioning. The peer health coaching initiative was configured into a modularised peer health coaching programme entitled, ‘PePSCOT’ (People in Prison in Scotland), and was developed with the aims of supporting oral health behaviour change and promoting psychosocial functioning (Cinar et al. 2017). We will consider how the benefits of peer health coaching can facilitate changes in the behaviours and attitudes of prisoners and ultimately lead to a reduction of the risks they present to the community. By combining health and risk reduction, this project will provide a unique lens of the release and rehabilitation of prisoners in Scotland and will contribute to interventions and policy in the area of prisoner health and risk management.

To date there are no studies that combine health and risk in the context of prisoner peer coaching. The supervisory team of Professor Freeman and Dr Lynn Kelly (Member of the Parole Board for Scotland) lends itself to an innovative and multidisciplinary project that will attract candidates from a range of disciplines including, health related disciplines, social work, law and criminology.

Outline for the project
In 2011, over 300 people in prison took part in a survey to examine their health, oral health and psychosocial health. Findings found that access to dental treatment was strongly connected to quality of life, (Freeman et al, 2014). A later study by Arora et al (2020) found a link between depression, drug use and poor dental health. Despite the best efforts of Government and policy implementation to promote oral health, these interventions failed because of a lack of understanding that ‘people who experience social exclusion and multiple intersecting vulnerabilities face a ‘triple separation, ’ (Freeman et al, 2020). A lack of an appreciation of these multidimensional nature of the poverty together with an unawareness of prisoners’ relational deprivation that underpinned failures in reducing health inequities (Akbar et al, 2012).
Of relevance is the recognised relationship between these intersecting vulnerabilities and risk. South, Bagnall and Woodall (2017) acknowledge that peer support can both improve the health of people in prison and reduce the risks that they present. It is acknowledged that a number of publications outline the benefits of peer coaching in relation to positive social influences and the pro-social behaviours (South et al., 2017; Douglas, Jackson and Usher, 2017) Risk reduction is also cited as a consequence, but there has been no attempt to causally link the experiences of peer coaching and risk in a broader public protection sense. This project will seek to demonstrate if such a causal link exists.

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Dr Lynn Kelly ()
For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact

Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK in a relevant discipline.

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 5.5 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s English language requirements are available online:


Step 1: Email Dr Lynn Kelly () to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Dr Kelly, formal applications can be made via UCAS Postgraduate:

Apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Social Work: Select the start date and study mode (full-time/part-time) agreed with the lead supervisor.

In the ‘provider questions’ section of the application form:
- Write the project title and ‘’ in the ‘if your application is in response to an advertisement’ box;
- Write the lead supervisor’s name and give brief details of your previous contact with them in the ‘previous contact with the University of Dundee’ box.

In the ‘personal statement’ section of the application form, outline your suitability for the project selected.

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses, via external sponsorship or self-funding.


Akbar T, Turner S, Themessl-Huber M, Richards D, Freeman R. (2012) The health-promoting prison: can it improve oral health? An evaluation of an Oral Health Improvement Project for high-security prisoners. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education 50:169-77.

Arora G, Humphris G, Lahti S, Richards D, Freeman R. (2020) Depression, drugs and dental anxiety in prisons: A mediation model explaining dental decay experience. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. Feb 10. doi: 10.1111/cdoe.12522.

Cinar A.B, Jones C, Richards D, Fernandes F, White P, Freeman R. (2017) PeP-SCOT a health coaching intervention for people in prisons: the development of the intervention protocol. Community Dental Health 34, 97-101

Douglas, L., Jackson, D., & Usher, K. (2017). Extending our understanding of mentoring: The potential of peer mentoring for, and by, at‐risk young people. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 26(2), 107-109.

Douglas, L. J., Woods, C., Usher, K., & Jackson, D. (2019). Rewriting stories of trauma through peer-to-peer mentoring for and by at-risk young people. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 28(3), 744-756.

Freeman R, Buls D, Watt C, Richards D, Everington T, MacFarlane F, Edwards M, O’Neill P, Jones C. (2014). Mouth Matters guide for trainers: better oral care for offenders. NHS Health Scotland.

Freeman R, Doughty J, MacDonald ME, Muirhead V. (2020) Inclusion oral health: Advancing a theoretical framework for policy, research and practice. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology. 48: 1-6.

South, J., Bagnall, A., & Woodall, J. (2017). Developing a Typology for Peer Education and Peer Support Delivered by Prisoners. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 23(2), 214-229.

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