Exploring Mentoring Programmes and Different Forms of Peer Support for Female Offenders: A Qualitative Study in Prison and the Community

Melissa Henderson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Within a criminal justice context, this qualitative study provides an empirical exploration of women’s experiences of mentoring programmes. The research investigates mentoring as a form of contemporary rehabilitation intervention in two separate forms: firstly, peer mentoring programmes within prison and secondly, ‘through-the-gate’ non-peer mentoring schemes within a community setting, undertaken by either paid workers or volunteers. The research adopts a gendered framework with a central focus on understanding the distinct needs and experiences of women in the context of supporting rehabilitation efforts and eventual desistance. Particular focus is given to the concept of the developing mentoring relationship, both between peer mentors in prison and mentors in the community, in order to explore the potential influence of relational factors in supporting changing behaviours and coping mechanisms.

Research interviews were conducted at HMP/YOI Bronzefield, England’s sole privately operated, women-only prison, and in community-based organisations that offered mentoring for female ex-prisoners. Eighteen women in prison were interviewed: thirteen ‘peer mentors’ and five ‘mentees’. Seven interviews were then conducted with mentors in the community. The interviews explored the basic practices and principles of mentoring programmes, the perceived impact of mentoring on female criminogenic needs, and the significance of relational dynamics on moving towards rehabilitation and reform. The overall research findings highlighted the disparities within the provision of mentoring services, both within prison peer programmes and community organisations. The accounts of peer mentors were indicative of the programme being more impactful for mentors rather than mentees, who were remarked as having developed improved self-confidence and were working towards a more ‘pro-social’ identity by conforming to a role in which they were ‘valued’. On the whole, mentoring within the prison was seen as a promising intervention that was improperly implemented, with the label of ‘mentor’ affixed to a variety of roles and positions, and the creation of power imbalances and risk-taking behaviours as a consequence of inadequate supervision and management by prison staff. The accounts provided by the participants in prison and the community also emphasised the significance of relational elements to the programme, reinforcing the need for a positive, holistic approach to female offender interventions. Following the outcomes of the research, the study concludes with recommendations for future policy and practicing of mentoring programmes, suggesting three key objectives; clearer information within the prison about the role of mentoring in order to recruit wider participation; further directive, robust training within the prison and community to establish a more streamlined intervention; and finally the requirement for a joined-up service between prison-based peer programmes and those that operate ‘through the gate’, in order to provide supportive, continuous care that targets women’s needs effectively and facilitates both rehabilitation and resettlement.  
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Meek, Rosie, Supervisor
  • Wright, Serena, Supervisor
Award date1 May 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Peer mentoring
  • female offender
  • prison
  • mentoring

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