Rolleston Prison - Reflections on a multi-disciplinary team in action

Mike Howson

Prison Director, Rolleston Prison, Department of Corrections

Alexandra Green

Principal Psychologist, Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit, Rolleston Prison, Department of Corrections

Gill Roper

Senior Psychologist, Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit, Rolleston Prison, Department of Corrections

Megan Stenswick

Senior Psychologist, Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit, Rolleston Prison, Department of Corrections

Author biographies:

Mike Howson took up the management of Rolleston Prison in 2008. Mike is responsible for all Rolleston Prison operations, and is a member of the Southern Regional Leadership Team. Mike has an extensive background with the Department of Corrections, starting as a corrections officer in 1988. Prior to his Prison Director role, Mike was responsible for the Youth Unit at Christchurch Prison. He was also involved in developing a new national programme to meet the needs of youth prisoners.

Alex Green is the Principal Psychologist of the Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit (STU), Rolleston Prison, one of two STUs that specialise in the treatment of high risk men convicted of sexually offending against children. She has 13 years experience in the assessment and treatment of male offenders and the delivery and integrity monitoring of the group based treatment programme at Kia Marama. She is responsible for ensuring programme integrity, staff supervision and ethical and safe working practices at Kia Marama.

Gill Roper is a senior psychologist at Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit. She has 10 years experience in the assessment and treatment of male offenders whose convictions include sexual offending against children. Gill attained registration as a clinical psychologist in 2005 after completing the Post Graduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology at Canterbury University; she also holds a Masters of Science degree in Psychology from Canterbury University. Gill has worked as a psychologist at the Department of Corrections for nine years, and as a senior psychologist for two years.

Megan Stenswick is a senior psychologist at the Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit and has 11 years experience in the assessment and treatment of male offenders. She has direct responsibility for the integrity monitoring of the Kia Marama programme, staff supervision, and training and consultation for psychologists on risk assessment measures. Megan attained registration as a psychologist in 2005 through the completion of a Post Graduate Diploma In Clinical Psychology through the University of Canterbury. She has a Master of Science from the University of Canterbury.

Staff at Rolleston Prison in Christchurch have embedded and normalised a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) approach across the prison. This practice note reflects on the components and history that contributed to this style of working.

Origins and inception

The site-wide MDT approach at Rolleston started three years ago when psychologists from Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit (STU) for child sex offenders moved into Totara Unit to establish a second community of change*. This second community of change aimed to support prisoners on the Short Intervention Programme (SIP) for child sex offenders.

An MDT approach had been well embedded in Kia Marama STU as a function of the community of change for many years and this was a normalised way for the various services (e.g. psychological services, custody, case management, offender employment) to interact in that unit. The development of a second community of change on site had long been supported by prison management, and this support was instrumental in facilitating both the ‘buy in’ of prison staff, and the practical changes required to move from a unit with a variety of offending types to a treatment unit supported by a community of change.

Ultimately, the result of the change was a strong working alliance between the psychologists and custodial services (both at a management and unit level). These two units represent half of the Rolleston Prison site. Aspects of the community of change (e.g. employment being related to treatment goals) further increased the degree of contact with offender employment. Having case managers based at the site also helped bring all staff involved with the prisoner together, and this has led to more robust offender plans.

Organisational changes that supported the development

Co-occurring with the community of change development were a number of organisational changes that supported the MDT approach. The move to a regionalised structure (with the associated support of the Regional Commissioner) was followed by the development of clear, cross-service, collective goals e.g. the departmental goal of reducing re-offending by 25% by 2017, and the transition of Rolleston to a Working Prisons model where all prisoners are engaged in either employment, training, treatment, education or constructive activities for 40 hours per week.

This had the effect of bringing site managers together to resolve service delivery and implementation issues between the various services, whilst simultaneously removing what had been a silo effect due to different lines of management. The increased level of engagement supported further development such as the implementation of Right Track** which essentially formalised a process that was often already taking place in Kia Marama and Totara Units. In addition, custodial management, in consultation with psychological services, recognised the importance of assigning appropriate custody staff to the therapeutic environments. These environments treat some of the highest risk prisoners so an ‘expressions of interest’ process was used to ensure we got custody staff with the appropriate skills and qualities to work in these units.

Other site factors that promoted this development included the nature and size of the site, which already had a treatment and rehabilitation focus. Many of the prisoners are in the latter stages of their sentence and are of lower security classifications. Returning employment opportunities to Rolleston (as opposed to sending work parties daily over to Christchurch Men’s Prison) was key because it increased engagement with employment instructors and allowed them to attend meetings and events onsite.

The effects of working together

  • ‘Shared understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities’ One of the benefits of the more collaborative approach was that staff gained a high level of understanding about the roles and responsibilities of each service onsite. This was aided by various groups that came to tour the site, which were typically hosted by an MDT group.
  • ‘Openness and respect’ Over time, in part due to being a smaller site with a stable workforce, close working relationships were formed. Senior managers supported the cultural development of openness and respect for the various spheres of expertise on site. Whilst this culture change may have initially reflected the personalities of the individuals involved, this culture has stabilised to the degree that it is not currently reliant on those individuals.
  • ‘Everyone has a say’ A degree of transparency in decision-making was established, so while the final decision remained with the appropriate manager, opportunities were created to elicit different perspectives to allow a more robust decision-making framework.

    Related to this, meetings are typically held in a manner reflecting quite a ‘flat’ hierarchy to elicit perspectives from all attendees irrespective of what level in the organisation they are. Each of these perspectives is valued and attendance is overtly appreciated, whilst robust discussion is not personalised but promoted.

  • ‘Many opportunities to practice multi-disciplinary action’ Attendance at site-wide events is inclusive and there are a number of opportunities for cross service engagement. Examples include:
    • Release to Work panel commenced 18 months ago; attended by custodial staff (principal corrections officer, residential manager, and custodial systems manager), psychologists, case managers, Release to Work co-ordinators, and offender employment staff. It is a national requirement for all applications for Release to Work to be reviewed by a panel to allow multiple perspectives on an individual prisoner.
    • In an effort to further ensure the safety of child visitors, Rolleston has made changes to its visitor approval process. An MDT panel is used when considering contact between child visitors and prisoners with sexual or violent offences against children. The panel is attended by custodial staff, health services staff and psychologists, and is tasked with balancing risk of harm to the child with the reintegrative and rehabilitative needs of the prisoner. This is supported by a case management process and formal structure whereby prisoners in all units can make applications and meet with the panel to discuss their request.
    • Staff safety is an issue for all staff and monthly safety meetings are open to all. Events such as ‘Staff Safety Week’ have a programme of activities and training that are well attended by all the staff groups. Each of the service groups also facilitated training to share their various areas of expertise.
    • Right Track meetings are inclusive and if someone is unable to attend they are emailed a summary by the staff working with a particular individual.
    • Unit based custody training occurs in the treatment units fortnightly and is facilitated by psychological services with a focus on offence paralleling behaviour and daily prisoner management. It is attended by a variety of staff including chaplains, health services staff and custodial staff.
    • ‘Business as usual’ meetings are open to all – for example, it is the norm for prison managers to attend community of change meetings in the units, and morning custodial briefings welcome staff from other areas to attend.
    • Social events like Christmas BBQ etc are open to all staff.

Benefits observed

Probably the biggest benefit is that the multiple perspectives increase the robustness of decision-making and the ability of these decisions to withstand scrutiny (e.g. from the Ombudsman and prisoner review). The MDT approach has become normal, and decision makers do not feel coerced or backed into a corner; they see the value added that allows them to make well-considered decisions. 

The associated transparency promotes consistency across the site in prisoner management. This enhances risk management as well as creating processes for succession management.

There is less risk of staff working in isolation, which mitigates the risk associated with advocacy for a particular prisoner or a prisoner attempting to manipulate staff for their own goals (e.g. getting onto Release to Work) without adhering to their offender plan.

Another by-product is increased willingness by staff to raise concerns across a number of areas (ranging from staff safety to integrity issues) due to the culture that all perspectives are valued and will be listened to. Collaborative working relationships increase the positive work environment and the support available to staff at all levels.


* ‘A Community of Change’ is a therapeutic environment which is run according to community principles (respect, personal responsibility, support, collaboration and openness). Offenders take ownership of their issues while supporting and respectfully challenging others, practising the learning they get from treatment.

** ‘Right Track’ is a formal practice where Corrections staff use an active management approach to helping offenders achieve their Offender Plan goals and outcomes. This could involve a one-on-one or multidisciplinary team approach.