Psychology should benefit all prisoners, not just female prisoners

This blog was first published as a letter in The Psychologist, November 2018 issue


Chris Millar makes the case for a more compassionate and psychologically informed treatment of prisoners (‘Careers’, August 2018). We fully support this but would suggest that this is applied equally to male prisoners, because all of the reasons Millar gives for supporting women also apply to men.

Even where the figures appear to apply more to women (e.g. ‘53 per cent [of women] report emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared with 27 per cent of men’), it is very likely that there is underreporting by male prisoners of such abuse. In addition to societal pressures making it more difficult for men to discuss experiences of victimisation, men are often not asked by staff about abuse to the same degree that women are. However, appropriate investigation can be revealing, for example, Murphy (2018) found that 66 per cent of male sex offenders with personality disorders have a history of childhood sexual abuse, 72 per cent have a history of physical abuse and 80 per cent have a history of neglect.

Having compassion for male offenders is more of a challenge than for female offenders, because men often express their trauma in violence and aggression that is directed at others. Regardless, psychologists should rise to this challenge and see male offenders as equally deserving of psychological healthcare as female offenders. Society has much to gain by the successful treatment of men’s mental health issues.


Dr Naomi Murphy
HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire

Dr John Barry
University College London


Murphy, N. (2018). Embracing vulnerability in the midst of danger: Therapy in a high secure prison. Existential Analysis 29(2), 174–188.



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