New report argues for whole prison approach to reduce violence

Researchers at the University of Birmingham state that high levels of prison violence and bullying can be reduced with strong leaders, strong staff-prisoner relationships and a whole prison approach.

Picture of a man holding some bars and looking out

Dr Kate Gooch and Dr James Treadwell, from the Law School at the University of Birmingham, have spent nine months working with staff and prisoners in a young offender institution.

Their ground-breaking research - Prison Bullying and Victimisation -  found that victimisation is a widespread problem and, for prisoners, is a largely ‘taken for granted’ aspect of prison life. 

The research found that, found that only strong leadership, good staff-prisoner relationships and a ‘whole prison approach’ to ‘anti-victimisation’ can counter the rapidly evolving problems of bullying and violence in prisons. 

Dr Kate Gooch said: ‘Only strong leadership and a whole prison approach can counter the rapidly changing dynamics of prison victimisation”

She continued: ‘Punishment alone will not stop perpetrators victimising others. Rather than a focus on punishment, the emphasis must be on rehabilitation and on supporting attitudinal and behavioural change’.

The research also found that recent technological, operational and social changes have rapidly altered and re-shaped the dynamics of victimisation within the prison walls. The research offers a unique insight into the illicit sub rosa economy of illegally smuggled mobile phones and so-called ‘legal highs’ that sustains it. 

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, recently described new psychoactive substances (or ‘legal highs’) and the rising prison violence linked to their use as “The biggest threat to our prisons.”  

Dr James Treadwell said: ‘High levels of violence and bullying are not inevitable, but will not be reduced without a national focus on anti-victimisation across the entire prison estate’.


On Monday 28th September, Dr Kate Gooch and Dr James Treadwell will be presenting a public lecture entitled, ‘The New Dynamics of Bullying and Victimisation amongst Young Men in Custody.’ The lecture is being held at 6pm, in Lecture Theatre 1 of Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham and is followed by a wine reception. The event is free. Register here