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Mental Health Screening Tool improves prisoners’ care

27 June 2013

Mental Health Screening Tool improves prisoners’ care

It's one year since Corrections introduced a new screening tool to identify prisoners’ mental health needs, leading to improvements in their care.

In the 10 months to the end of April, use of the Mental Health Screening Tool led to 653 prisoners being referred for appropriate health care for their mental health needs. These prisoners may not previously have been identified.

Early identification of prisoners’ mental health needs helps staff decide treatment referrals.

“Addressing mental health needs remains an ongoing priority to help meet Corrections’ objective of reducing re-offending by 25 percent,” says Corrections Director Offender Health Bronwyn Donaldson.

“Addressing mental health needs improves the ability of prisoners to successfully participate in rehabilitation programmes and employment. Successful participation in rehabilitation activities reduces the severity and frequency of re-offending.”

Research has shown that mental health disorders and illnesses are up to five times more prevalent among prisoners than in the general population.

All male prisoners over 18 now undergo the screening by a registered nurse in the first seven days after their arrival in prison. Prisoners are referred to Forensic Services if they screen as positive. Prisoners assessed as having a mild to moderate mental health need will be treated in prison. The prisoners may see the nurse or prison doctor or they can be referred to an external provider for a package of care which includes a range of individual tailored interventions, such as anxiety management and cognitive behavioural therapy for up to six sessions.

The screening tool has been particularly effective at Otago Corrections Facility, where 32 prisoners have been referred to a private provider for counselling sessions.

“Most of the prisoners who attended sessions reported they were very helpful,” said Terry Eberling, who provides services at Otago Corrections Facility through Family Mental Health Services and Rural Canterbury PHO.

“Many have alcohol and drug issues and benefited from being able to start addressing these issues. They were also introduced to ideas about mood management and choices, and helped to evaluate their situation. It’s a difficult journey for many of them, but it can help with their motivation to make positive changes.”

Between 1 July 2012 to 31 May 2013, more than 6000 assessments were carried out on prisoners using the screening tool. Of these, 653 were found to have serious mental health needs and remained under Forensic Services for on-going treatment, or were assessed as having mild to moderate mental health needs and were treated by a prison nurse or Medical Officer, or were referred to an external health care provider to receive a package of care.

Offenders undergo a number of other checks and assessments for their mental health needs during their time in prison. These include drug and alcohol screening, psychological evaluation, and assessments to check if they are at risk of self harm or suicide.


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