Healthy prison cultures: Factors influencing male prisoners’ engagement in exercise and subsequent healthy behaviours

Hannah Hammond, Rosie Meek, Emily Glorney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The purpose of this paper is to identify the factors which influence male prisoners’ motivation for, and engagement in, exercise and subsequent healthy behaviours.


The first authors conducted 20 semi-structured interviews with male prisoners inside an English medium-security male prison. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, themes were identified using thematic analysis and a critical realist perspective applied to understand objective processes behind prisoners’ experiences and shared meanings of exercise and engaging in healthy behaviours in prison.


Emerging themes indicate that in the context of healthy behaviours male prisoners aspired to a masculine ideal that was characterised by a culture of either adaptive behaviours, or maladaptive behaviours. The former fostered an adaptive exercise culture which promoted psychological well-being through an autonomy-supportive environment, consequently internalising motivation and minimising perceived barriers to engaging in healthy behaviours. Conversely, a culture of maladaptive behaviours fostered a maladaptive exercise culture which led to negative psychological well-being, underpinned by external forms of motivation which emphasised barriers to engaging in healthy behaviours.

Practical implications

Findings emphasise the need for prisons to promote an internal perceived locus of control for male prisoners when engaging in healthy behaviours.


The authors adopt a rare interdisciplinary approach combining a psychological theory of motivation and criminological perspectives of prison culture to understand how best to minimise the impact of prisons as an institution on the psychological well-being of male prisoners.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-29
JournalInternational Journal of Prisoner Health
Issue number1
Early online date15 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2024

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