‘Helping not hurting’
: Learning from the experiences of prisoner peer caregivers and care receivers in a UK prison to improve peer care practices in custodial contexts

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Over the past two decades the proportion of older prisoners has increased dramatically from 7% to 17% of the total prison population in England and Wales. This is problematic, as their needs are holistically different to their younger counterparts and prisons are not designed for issues associated with older adulthood. An increase in human frailty, disability and dependency has exposed problems within the local and national prison systems, and this has raised numerous financial and managerial issues for prison administrators. These issues are set against a backdrop of reduced funding, overcrowding, increasing violence, increasing self-harm and suicide.

The aim of this study is to contribute to new understandings that can mitigate the effects of an increasingly ageing and infirm population by developing the amount and quality of peer caregiving – namely, low-level, preventative peer social support. The research was undertaken in a Category B UK prison with a higher-than-average proportion of older prisoners.

The study investigates the factors that explain the current situation, inhibit the processes of peer caregiving and other factors that might promote better caregiver/receiver relations in a prison setting. Data was collected using mixed qualitative methods (participant observation and interview). The related literature was reviewed, and ethics of care, criminological theories of personal development and theories of social learning were used as theoretical frameworks to analyse the data. Analysis enabled the clustering of quotes, observations and researcher notes into the following emergent themes:
1. Immediate precarity and longer-term risks.
2. Expressions of care in prison.
3. Caregiving and personal development.
4. Learning to peer care.
5. Purpose and power: working relationships, official guidance, leadership.

Prisoner peer caregiving is identified as a relatively new discourse and practice that is in tension with better-established discourses and practices of security, control and managerialism. The current situation is explained in terms of dominant discourses and practices and neo-liberal imperatives in the fields of health and social care and justice. Developing models of horizontal care, supported by social forms of learning, are recommended as contributing to improving peer care practice in prisons.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorNadia Edmond (Supervisor) & Lizzie Ward (Supervisor)

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