Taking action for a healthier future

The Department of Corrections has always invested in primary health services, with increasing emphasis on mental health services and alcohol and drug treatment. These services have been delivered alongside support from regional forensic mental health services operated by district health boards.

The August 2016 Practice Journal (Vol 4, No 1) gave a summary of an important piece of research into comorbid substance abuse and mental health disorders amongst prisoners. Unsurprising to those working in correctional practice, the study reflected that the prevalence of mental health disorders was very high, with 91% of prisoners reporting a diagnosis of any mental disorder over their lifetime, and 62% reporting a diagnosis in the last 12 months.

Building on this and other research, in recent years Corrections has been doing more for offenders with mental health needs. This issue of the journal reports on some key initiatives in this area.

Joanne Love and Rachel Rogers lead the way with an article on Corrections’ Intervention and Support Project. The article highlights some startling statistics on self-harm, and examines overseas suicide and self-harm prevention, before introducing us to the high level design for the Model of Care that will support new ways of working with some of the most vulnerable people in our care.

Gilbert Azuela’s article The development of Mental Health and Reintegration Services highlights the relationships Corrections is building with our service providers (Emerge, Pillars, Pact, and Rural Canterbury and WellSouth Primary Health Organisations) through our Chief Executive Governance Board and the Service Development Working Group. Another highlight is the stories people in our care can tell about how our clinicians and counsellors are changing their lives. Sonia Barnes shares the findings of the preliminary Evaluation of the Improved Mental Health Service, and reveals that “offenders and staff involved with the service were overwhelmingly positive about its value for improving offender mental health”. Improvements recommended in referral processes and triaging can only make the services more effective. Jill Bowman, in the Evaluation of the counsellors and social workers services, identifies that services are working as intended, with the referral process highlighted as a strength.

Consideration of health and well-being moves beyond prisoners to focus on staff with Mike Cosman’s article The journey to achieve a safer and healthier workplace, andAlan Walmsley’s article reports on the Physical Readiness Assessment. A telling quote from one staff member reads “I thank the department for helping me become a healthy version of me. Good for me, great for my family and more importantly I am more able to assist my work colleagues in a time of need” – evidence that Corrections’ focus on health and safety is not only vital for business, but good for individuals and their whānau as well.

“Health” people will always find something that resonates in articles that are not about health at all! Ashley Shearer’s piece on the Duke of Edinburgh Awards is a good example; the tenacity of the young men in our Youth Units as they complete the physical requirements for the award can only be commended.

A focus on health and well-being may be a useful way to reintegrate gang members, or are family and intimate relationships the key? Read Armon Tamatea’s article on gangs and reintegration to find out more.

There are, as always, some excellent contributions by the research team – check out Offender employment needs post-release: A gendered analysis of expectations, outcomes and service effectiveness by Bronwyn Morrison, Marianne Bevan, and Jill Bowman, or John Locker and Bronwyn Morrison’s The parachute problem: negotiating the ups and downs of Randomised Controlled Trial use in criminal justice settings. Their conclusion: “Alternative methods (to randomised controls trials) can and do provide sufficient (or better) evidence about ‘what works’”. From a health perspective that really works for me.

Happy reading and be healthy out there!

Bronwyn Donaldson

Director Offender Health