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  • Publication
    Managing Serious Violence in the Irish Prison Service: Exploring the Experiences of Prisoners and Prison Officers through the Lens of the Power Threat Meaning Framework
    (University College Dublin. School of Psychology, 2023)
    Background: The opening of the National Violence Reduction Unit (NVRU) in November 2018 represented a significant shift in how serious violence is managed under the Violently Disruptive Prisoner (VDP) policy in the Irish Prison Service (IPS). Previously, practice under the VDP policy was operationally-driven, and focused primarily on containing the violence of these prisoners through isolative, restrictive and physically secure measures. Contrastingly, current practice in the NVRU, now home to all VDP policy prisoners, aims to be psychologically-informed in various ways. In January 2018, the British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP) published the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF). The PTMF aims to provide a holistic way of understanding the origins, experiences and expressions of emotional distress and troubled/troubling behaviour, which contrasts to the dominant psychiatric diagnostic model. The related literature has also advocated for more holistic understandings of prison violence, with most existing theories (e.g. importation theory, deprivation theory) stratified to singular levels of understanding. Objectives: This thesis had dual theoretical and applied aims. It aimed to explore the empirical utility of the PTMF, primarily as a holistic alternative for understanding the origins, experiences and expressions of prison violence. Simultaneously, it aimed to explore prisoners’ and prison officers’ experiences and perspectives of the previous and current VDP policy, through the lens of the PTMF. Methods: This thesis is comprised of four studies. Study one involved a scoping review of the empirical PTMF evidence-base which has emerged in the five years since its publication (n = 17). Study two qualitatively explored prisoners’ (n = 4) and prison officers’ (n = 13) experiences of the previous VDP policy, using thematic analysis (TA) to generate a detailed description of what the previous VDP policy was like, why it was like this, how it was working, and how it could change. Study three qualitatively explored NVRU prisoners’ (n = 3) self-understandings of the origins, experiences and expressions of their violent behaviour. It used a hybrid inductive and deductive approach to TA to identify both a priori elements of the PTMF, and novel additions, in these narratives. Study four adopted the same methodology as study three, this time exploring NVRU prison officers’ (n = 13) understandings of the prisoners with whom they worked. Results: Study one identified a diverse empirical evidence-base which used the PTMF in five main ways: (1) PTMF-informed data collection, (2) PTMF-informed data analysis, (3) exploring experiences of/views on the PTMF, (4) evaluating PTMF-informed formulation, and (5) evaluating PTMF-informed interventions. Study two described the previous VDP policy through nine themes: (1) describing VDP policy prisoners, (2) staff characteristics and approaches, (3) describing the VDP policy regime, (4) the social environment, (5) the occupational environment, (6) function of the VDP policy, (7) impact of the VDP policy, (8) factors influencing violence, and (9) responding to violence. Studies three and four described prisoners’ and prison officers’ respective understandings of the origins, experiences and expressions of violence through six themes: (1) power, (2) threat, (3) meaning, (4) threat response, (5) function of threat response, and (6) moderating factors. These studies offer both unique contributions and integrated learnings, including the complexity of violence; intertwined cycles of adversity, trauma and violence; and the unique contributions and shared insights of prisoners and prison officers. Conclusions: These findings are contextualised within the strengths (e.g. novel theoretical framework, innovative methodology) and limitations (e.g. sample sizes and profiles, timeline of research) of this thesis. Potential implications and future directions for theory (e.g. value of holistic understandings), research (e.g. importance of adaptive methodologies), policy (e.g. benefits of psychologically-informed aims) and practice (e.g. value of prison officer perspectives) are considered.
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