Family, inmate and staff relationships: What matters most for prisoners’ psychological health?

Dr Julie Barkworth1

1Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

Research has consistently shown the relationships prisoners build with their family, other inmates and prison staff are important for their overall mental health. Staff-prisoner relationships are found to be one of the most important predictors of quality of prison life and prisoner general well-being, with recent research examining such relationships through a procedural justice framework. Self-report survey data from 177 prisoners in four maximum security Queensland prisons will be used to consider the importance of family, inmate and staff relationships on prisoners’ general well-being, psychological distress and overall quality of life. The findings indicate that when prisoners are asked about psychological distress, their friendships with inmates matter most. However, when prisoners are asked about their well-being and quality of life within prison, perceptions about how prison staff exert their authority matter most; specifically, if staff are perceived to be procedurally just, prisoners report more positive well-being outcomes. Interestingly, family relationships matter less. The project will have important implications for developing evidence-based best-practices for prison staff to more effectively engage with prisoners, as well as theoretically contributing to the procedural justice literature.


Dr Julie Barkworth is a Lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Griffith Criminology Institute at Griffith University. Julie’s research interests include procedural justice; cooperation and compliance behaviour; defiance and resistance to authority; corrections; prisoner well-being.


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