The Intervention and Support Project: A new approach to preventing self-harm and suicide in prison

It’s not news that prisons are full of troubled people. Many prisoners have mental health and drug and alcohol issues*, and even without a diagnosed mental illness, some prisoners self-harm or try to take their own lives.

Our staff work to keep these people safe every day. We believe that no matter how challenging a prisoner’s behaviour, or how complex their needs, they deserve excellent careOne key aspect of the ‘prison-wide’ approach is that all prisoner-facing staff at the pilot sites will receive training in how to work with prisoners vulnerable to self-harm or suicide. and to feel hope for the future.

Last year, Corrections received $11.6 million Budget funding to design and trial a new prison-wide model of care for prisoners vulnerable to self-harm or suicide. The trial will take place at three prisons over four years.

The model of care will transform the way all staff in a prison work with prisoners who are vulnerable to self-harm or suicide.

The model of care has a more therapeutic, less ‘rule-bound’ approach, and staff will use a professional decision-making framework to make smart decisions about individual prisoners. For example, currently, ‘at risk’ prisoners are moved to an At Risk Unit. However, we know that moving vulnerable prisoners can be distressing for them, so some prisoners may be able to stay in their ‘home’ unit with additional support, as long as it’s safe to do that.

All prisoner-facing staff at the three pilot sites (including custodial staff, health staff, instructors and case managers) will receive training in how to work with prisoners vulnerable to self-harm or suicide.

Additional teams of clinical staff  will be recruited to ensure prisoners are supported by multi-disciplinary practice. These new teams will include clinical psychologists, a clinical manager, a registered nurse with expertise in mental health, an occupational therapist, and a cultural support worker.

The Intervention and Support Project is about giving prisoners hope: not just keeping them safe in the short-term, but working in new ways to improve their long-term wellbeing.

The three pilot sites are Auckland Men’s Prison, Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, and Christchurch Men’s Prison.

* 62% of prisoners had some form of mental health or substance abuse disorder in the 12 months prior to imprisonment, and 91% had a diagnosis at some time in their lives (2016).

Help for prisoners vulnerable to self-harm or suicide: the bigger picture

Other key Corrections’ initiatives to support vulnerable prisoners include:

  • We screen all new prisoners for mental health and drug and alcohol issues
  • We screen for risk of self-harm and suicide
  • We introduced mental health clinicians into 15 prisons and four Community Corrections sites
  • We’re trialling counsellors and social workers in our women’s prisons (female prisoners are more likely to be victims of family violence and sexual abuse, and to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • All prisons are improving the physical environments of their At Risk units.

Intervention and Support Learning Event

On 4 and 5 April, senior Corrections managers from around the country will convene at an Intervention and Support ‘Learning Event’ in Wellington. The event will enable them to hear from experts in the field, consider the latest self-harm and suicide research, and share good practice for keeping prisoners safe.