Adapting to Prison Life

Ireland, Carol A orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7310-2903 (2001) Adapting to Prison Life. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis examines longitudinally how young offenders cope with prison life, in particular the relationship between early coping styles and later levels of psychological health' and homesickness. The research was conducted in two parts. The first was a preliminary study to modify a homesickness questionnaire (Archer et al, 1998) for use within a prison population. The modified questionnaire (HQ-P) demonstrated good reliability. The second part consisted of the longitudinal study. This comprised three phases where individuals were assessed within two weeks of arriving into the prison system (phase one, N = 261), six weeks later (phase two, N = 133) and four to six months after phase one (phase three, N = 55). At each phase, individuals were asked to complete a coping styles questionnaire, psychological health and homesickness measures. A small number of the sample at phase one also took part in a semi-structured interview. This was to explore qualitatively their methods of coping, management of relationships and levels of support experienced within the first two weeks of arrival into the prison system. The results demonstrated that the use of emotional and avoidance coping within two weeks of arrival into prison was related to better levels of psychological health and lower levels of homesickness some six weeks and four to six months later. Individuals also demonstrated preferences for particular coping strategies that remained consistent across each phase. There are many implications of these findings. The first of these is the demonstration that levels of homesickness remain consistently high as time continues in prison. The study also reflects the importance of not labelling coping strategies as universally effective or ineffective, and allowing a more realistic exploration of their significance as a result. The effective early use of avoidance and emotional coping upon later levels of psychological health and homesickness would contrast against coping theory, that has previously regarded emotional and avoidance coping as hindering effective management of the stressor (Zeinder and Endler, 1996 and Menaghan, 1982).

'Psychological health refers to symptoms expressed in the Middlesex Hospital Questionnaire (Crown and Crisp, 1966). These include depression, free-floating anxiety, obsessional and hysteric symptoms, also somatic symptoms which has a physical base. When discussing the findings throughout this thesis, references to psychological health are a combination of the above symptoms.

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