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Home arrow Law arrow The Voluntary Sector in Prisons: Encouraging Personal and Institutional Change


Data analysis resulted in four major themes relating to the acceptability and use of peer-based approaches. These themes included: taking on a peer role, utilising peers, challenges to utilising peers, and the prison commitment to bottom-up approaches.

Taking on a Peer Role

Most participants were enthusiastic about peer-deliverer roles that might be developed within the YOI. They were motivated to take on the role for personal development, personal health gains, to perform a civic duty, and to gain status and credibility.

Personal Development

The young men in this study were keen to take part in prison activities that allowed for personal development. They described frustrations with the lack of activities and the heightened security restrictions imposed on them characterised by long periods of lock-up; one participant reflected that, ‘mentally it’s shit. It’s depressing. Soul crushing. Stagnating my mind. It’s the whole prison in general.’ Participants described the prison experience as merely passing time (what the literature often describes as ‘doing time’ or ‘surviving prison,’ e.g. Crewe, 2011; de Viggiani, 2006; Van Ginneken, 2015) rather than engaging in rehabilitative activities.

Concerns that they were spending a crucial part of their developmental stages in prison were common; one participant stated: ‘I feel like I came in here at the pinnacle of my youth—it’s like a transitional age for me. You are building a life, which is what I was doing before coming in here. I see coming in prison as a speed bump’ Some participants were also aware that they were expected to develop into adulthood and learn valuable skills that they would require upon release:

‘I just don’t want to come out the same person as I came in. When any of us get out, we will be full adults—yes, young adults, but still adults. We will have to adjust to doing adult stuff like paying bills, and getting a job. So we need to be able to do that.’

According to the narratives, current opportunities within the prison did not adequately support them in their developmental needs and did not provide them with any transferable skills for use on release. One young man stated: ‘they do all the courses in here and then you’re just on serv- ery. Which is a good position to have in here but it’s nothing on the outside and gives you no skills for the outside.’ As such, they viewed peer- approaches for health as an opportunity for personal development, particularly when the training was externally provided and led to a certificate of qualification, which could help their future job prospects.

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