Prisons have become a place used to hold individuals whose undiagnosed and untreated mental and emotional disorders present a barrier to rehabilitative initiatives and for whom prison is not a place of care and treatment. Inadequate awareness of prisoners’ mental health problems during their re-integration in civil society means that offenders leave prison with the dual stigma of a prison sentence and mental health needs, thereby exacerbating known reoffending factors, which increases the likelihood of returning to prison.
Recent research points to high comorbidity between mental illness and substance misuse, which increases repeat offending and premature mortality following release, and stand-alone studies indicate more mental disorders among prisoners than the general population. Whether the person comes to prison with a psychiatric disorder which worsens over time, or whether prison is the cause of it, the outcome is the same: diagnosing and treating prisoners suffering from mental health disorders benefits the individual, other prisoners and prison staff. Even if critical points are noted, prison training is particularly lacking in awareness and psychological screening.
Leaving mental health issues undiagnosed and unsupported in the community means former prisoners must overcome or manage these problems alone before progressing with the education, training and employment (ETE) measures crucial for effective resettlement. The European Council and the World Health Organisation recommend for information and education on mental health issues to continue after release.
AWARE “Cross-sectoral awareness building on mental health needs in the criminal justice system and on release” is an integrated response to non-discrimination and social inclusion of those who suffer from the double challenge and stigma of both a criminal record and mental health problems.
In the scope of the project, we will develop training materials for people working in the criminal justice system, communities and prisoners' families, both to raise awareness and to offer practical support. The goal is that we are all better able to support mental health sufferers at critical points during their imprisonment and after release. Specific objectives for this project are the following:
- To narrow the gap between civil society and those suffering mental health issues in the criminal justice context by bringing together criminal justice and civil society organisations in an exchange of mutual understanding and expertise;
- To provide mental health awareness training methodology for those working in a prison, probation or civil society context, so better outcomes are verified for those within the criminal justice system, including reducing reoffending;
- To inform and educate families and communities on how prison exacerbates mental health issues, so they are better equipped to detect and support prisoners during critical points on release.
- AWARE short training course to support staff working with prisoners or former prisoners with moderate to severe mental health issues.
- AWARE course condensed as accessible e-learning modules.
- Enhance integration between agencies and case studies showing how this could work in different systems.
- Website as a cooperative knowledge-sharing hub, and supported social media platforms.
- High-level seminar to show the value of this training and the integration of agencies.
- Publish research based on original data.
- Expanding a network of contact points of mental health in prison and probation multipliers, and of training providers (or similar cooperation mechanisms) for relevant staff to exchange information on ongoing training needs and implementation.
- Bremen Senate of Justice and Constitution, Germany
- IPS_Innovative Prison Systems, Portugal
- BSAFE LAB of UBI University, Portugal
- CPIP – Center for Promoting Lifelong Learning, Romania
- Athens Lifelong Learning Institute, Greece
- New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria
- ICPA Stichting Foundation office in Europe, The Netherlands