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REA Scholarship : Bereavement and imprisonment: an exploration of the experience of grief and loss prior to and during custody

This research proposes to contribute new knowledge in this area while also informing policy and practice responses. 

The research questions are:                                                      

1. What are prisoners’ experiences of bereavement prior to and during incarceration and what effect does the prison context have on their experiences and processes of grieving?    

2. What, if any, bereavement supports exist within the prison setting and how are they experienced?                                                

3. What are the challenges and opportunities for providing bereavement support?                                                                              

4. How might bereavement support be developed?     

  • Number of scholarships 1
  • Value £14,510
  • Opens 20 January 2017
  • Deadline 3 April 2017
  • Help with Tuition fees, Living costs, Travel costs
  • Duration 3 years


Applicants must have a first or upper second class honours degree and/or a Masters degree in a closely related discipline.

Project Details

Bereavement is a common feature in prisoners’ lives (Vaswani 2014; Finlay and Jones 2000). There is also an association between unresolved grief, offending and imprisonment that while observed (Schetky 1998), remains underexplored and ill-understood (Vaswani, 2014). This association - underpinned by high levels of disadvantage and deprivation amongst prisoners prior to custody - makes traumatic bereavement experiences, whether through substance abuse, mental ill-health and homicide, more likely.  Such experiences often result in unresolved or disenfranchised grief - that cannot be ‘openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported’ (Doka 1989:4) – and have been linked with risk-taking and offending (Webster et al. 2006). 

During imprisonment, experiencing and coping with bereavement can be compounded due to prisoners being detached from natural support systems and bereavement rituals (Olsen and McEwan 2004); imprisonment can interrupt and interfere with grieving processes and this can manifest in ‘problematic’ behaviour in prison and impact on prisoners’ prospects for reintegration on release (Vaswani, 2014). Effectively supporting prisoners to cope with bereavement may, thus, positively impact on individuals, their families and communities (Hendry 2008). This has added significance given that, in the UK, North America and Japan, in particular, (Maschi et al, 2013), the average age of the prison population is increasing and the amount of deaths experienced within custodial settings is likely to increase (NHS 2011), but also, the number of ‘deaths in custody’ as a consequence of suicide or homicide, has risen sharply (Ministry of Justice, 2015). Having effective supports in place, for staff and prisoners, has been recognised as a core concern (NHS 2011, Scottish Government 2015, Stone et al, 2011). 
However, despite a burgeoning research interest in bereavement and loss among prisoners, little is known about prisoners’ experiences, the effects of the institutional setting, and the efforts and impacts of institutional responses (Wilson 2011, Hendry 2009).

Further Information

This will involve three action research phases:
Phase one (preparation): a systematic review of international theoretical, empirical, policy and practice evidence relating to the experience of bereavement for prisoners.                                            
Phase two (exploration): in-depth interviews with prisoners and prison staff to explore the experience and impact of bereavement both prior to and during custody.                                                                             
Phase three (collaboration): working in participation with prisoners and prison staff to identify possible practice innovations.                   
This study will develop a theoretical framework, informed by the systematic review and attentive to the resilience and capacity of prisoners and prison communities to respond to bereavement experiences.

Contact us



Email:  Dr Sally Paul
Telephone:  01414448756

How to apply

Candidates must apply on-line via PEGASUS at and choose “PhD Social Work”.  

Candidates should include: 

• CV 

• Research proposal of no more than 1000 words, which includes a clear research question, and explanation of why it is highly original, and an outline of a timetable for tackling the project.

• Covering letter describing in detail your interest in and suitability for undertaking this project 

• Degree transcripts (this may be an interim transcript if you are still studying) 

• Two academic references* 

*These may be provided directly from your referees if they would prefer and should be sent to no later than the deadline of 20th March. 

Email subject should contain: applicant name + phrases “Reference” and “REA Application