Bereavement and imprisonment : a descriptive phenomenological exploration of prisoners’ experiences of bereavement in carceral contexts

  • Tia Simanovic

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study explores prisoners’ experiences of bereavement and the impact of carceral contexts on manifestations and processing of grief. Death can elicit strong emotional responses, which could result in higher irritability, tendency to act aggressively, and engagement in antisocial mechanisms of numbing the pain (e.g., substance abuse, violence, self-harm). It can also lead to social withdrawal, isolation, and emotional suppression, occasionally re-emerging, often in unexpected ways. Imprisonment, on the other hand, can detach people from their support systems and reduce opportunities to participate in the community. Despite prior research indicating a higher prevalence of bereavement among justice-involved individuals and its potential links with reoffending, both grieving in prisons and the impact of carceral contexts on bereavement remain under-studied. To this end, the researcher conducted 33 semi-structured, voice-recorded interviews with male and female prisoners in two Scottish prisons to capture rich, nuanced narratives of prisoners’ experiences of bereavement. Following Giorgi’s (2000) Descriptive Phenomenological (DP) framework for analysis, the individual accounts of a phenomenon were eventually submerged, enabling its generalized structure to emerge. While the former relayed the subjective, emotional, social, relational, and corporeal aspects of bereavement, the latter implied policy and practice recommendations. The findings discovered the existence of fragmented grief among this sample, in that the continuum of bereavement was interrupted in different ways, depending on the context. Fragmented grief is conceptualized as both an intentional coping mechanism and an outcome of the impact of prison on the processing of grief. Thus, bereavement in carceral contexts simultaneously embodied various, often competing levels of its temporal, spatial, and corporeal manifestations, leaving some prisoners trapped in this liminality, this ambiguity of being neither here nor there. Consequently, the findings from this study are relevant not just for the duration of individuals’ imprisonment but have important implications for release and reintegration.
Date of Award20 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorSally Paul (Supervisor) & Beth Weaver (Supervisor)

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