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Working to identify support needs for staff working within prison environments.

Project Description

Prisons represent intense sites of mental distress and suffering. Epidemiological studies demonstrate consistently high rates of mental disorder amongst prisoners globally. Suicide rates are also high particularly at times of transition. In the UK, healthcare professionals within prison environments are charged with providing clinical care that is ‘equivalent’ to that which could be expected to be received within the general community. However, health and social care work within prison is complex, demanding and frequently involves challenging inter-agency working. In this context it is perhaps unsurprising that levels of ‘burnout’ amongst professionals are high.

The process of working alongside prisoners can be seen as representing a form of ‘emotional labour’ - that is, it exerts a toll on the practitioner as well as the prisoners themselves. As in all areas of health and social care, we need to develop appropriate means of addressing and supporting professionals in this process. In the context of prison based work the question arises as to what form of supervision is best suited to address this need? Who should be involved in such supervision (health and social care staff only or custodial officers and other staff as well)? How can we measure the impact of such supervision? The proposed project seeks to address these questions. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will develop the project in line with their own emerging interests. However, it is anticipated that conducting an initial literature review will allow the area of enquiry to be appropriately mapped and the research question finalised before an appropriate research approach is developed. Findings will be developed into a care support model, through a of consensus seeking process, ready for implementation and further trial in real life practice, with consideration given to the development of appropriate measures to gauge the success of any such implementation.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

A First or Upper Second Class Bachelor's degree (or its international equivalent).
A relevant master's degree, with Merit and a minimum average grade of 60% in both the taught course units and your dissertation (or international equivalent of 60%). Candidates with a particular interest in Criminal Justice and Mental Health are encouraged to apply

This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).


Kirkpatrick T, Lennox C, Taylor R, et al Evaluation of a complex intervention (Engager) for prisoners with common mental health problems, near to and after release: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial BMJ Open 2018;8:e017931. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017931

Shaw, Jenny, Sarah Conover, Dan Herman, Manuela Jarrett, Morven Leese, Paul McCrone, Caroline Murphy et al. "Critical time Intervention for Severely mentally ill Prisoners (CrISP): a randomised controlled trial." (2017).

Shepherd, A., Sanders, C. and Shaw, J., 2017. Seeking to understand lived experiences of personal recovery in personality disorder in community and forensic settings–a qualitative methods investigation. BMC psychiatry, 17(1), p.282.

Shepherd, A., Doyle, M., Sanders, C. and Shaw, J., 2016. Personal recovery within forensic settings–Systematic review and meta‐synthesis of qualitative methods studies. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 26(1), pp.59-75.

Forsyth, K., Archer-Power, L., Senior, J., Meacock, R., Webb, R., Emsley, R., Edge, D., Walsh, E., Ware, S., Challis, D. and Hayes, A., 2017. The effectiveness of the Older prisoner Health and Social Care Assessment and Plan (OHSCAP): a randomised controlled trial

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