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Young Offenders in Prison – perceptions of mental health disorders and their treatment: a qualitative study

Myers, C. A. ORCID: 0000-0001-8216-2844, Cowie, H. & Hutson, N. (2007). Young Offenders in Prison – perceptions of mental health disorders and their treatment: a qualitative study. International Journal on Violence at School(4), pp. 3-18.


Aim: To explore the understanding of young offenders about the mental health issues that affect them whilst incarcerated, and what support they require.

Background: The mental health needs of young people in prison continue to pose a serious health problem for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole. Violent behaviour, towards others and towards the self, remains a disturbing problem. This study addresses the issue from the perspective of the young people themselves through interviews with young offenders currently serving custodial sentences. Method Qualitative interview study with thematic analysis. Setting Twenty in-depth interviews with young people (10 males and 10 females) in 2 Young Offenders Institutions.

Participants: 16-20 year old young offenders, completing sentences in Young Offender Institutions in England. Results Awareness of a range of mental health issues existed among all of the participants. At the same time, there was widespread prejudice towards those with mental health difficulties despite personal experiences of difficulty and day-to-day observation of peers in distress. Participants appreciated the information and treatment that they received on drugs, alcohol and substance abuse but felt that this input took place at the expense of treating other mental health difficulties. They reported over-use of medication, some inappropriate prescribing practices and a dearth of therapeutic interventions such as counselling. They reported suspicion of in-house support because of the lack of trust inherent in the prison environment.

Conclusion: Young people in custody are a particularly vulnerable group with a strong need for appropriate information about mental health issues and the provision of counselling and other forms of social support to alleviate their distress. Nursing and counselling staff in prisons potentially play a critical role in addressing this urgent issue by focussing on the emotional and educational needs of young offenders. Nurses currently tend to fulfil a medical role in prisons, prescribing medication, but additional counselling based training seems an appropriate way forward so that nurses are empowered to address their mental health issues in a holistic way.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright, the authors, 2007.
Publisher Keywords: young offenders, mental health, violent behaviour, self harm, children’s rights, counselling
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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