Making Meaning of Life Behind Bars: Utilizing ACT with Offenders Sentenced to Life Without Parole

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name



Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

John McNeill, Psy.D.

Second Committee Member

Lynett Henderson Metzger, Psy.D.

Third Committee Member

Nikki Johnson, Psy.D.


Adults, Forensic, Correctional psychology, Incarceration, Life-sentence, Life without parole

Publication Statement

Copyright held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


According to the Sentencing Project (2017), as of 2016, 53,290 people were serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Despite the high prevalence rate, these offenders have limited access to therapeutic programs, training, and education, as those are reserved for individuals who need to be “rehabilitated” because they will eventually be released. As a result of their life-long sentences, these offenders face numerous stressors and challenges, which are left unaddressed given their limited access to supportive services. Existing research demonstrates that acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is effective in motivating values-consistent action in the presence of unwanted experiences that had previously blocked such action. Thus, this conceptual paper suggests the clinical implications of utilizing ACT with offenders sentenced to life without parole, as a means to create meaning in their lives, despite living out their days behind bars.


40 pgs

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