Evaluating a mental health service in a young offender’s institution: a thematic analysis of prison officer experiences [2020]

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the current service provision offered by a mental health service in a young offenders institute (YOI) in England.

A qualitative exploratory approach was adopted. Five prison officers (POs) (four male and one female) with direct experience supporting young people through mental health intervention were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. Data was analysed using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006), which allowed evaluation of the current mental health provision to evolve.

Five overarching themes (process of referrals; intervention and its impact; role and function of the health and well-being team; collaboration and involvement; and feedback, communication and intervention) were found to be highly salient when evaluating service provision. Notably all themes interrelated with one another, demonstrating that changes or improvements made to the service need to consider all factors individually and collectively.

Research limitations/implications
This study was based on a small sample of POs in only one YOI in England, and therefore cannot be generalised to the entire prison estate. However, it does offer a rich insight into local service provision from the perspective of a group whose opinion is rarely sought.

Practical implications
POs’ perspectives of service provision are important in informing service developments. Lessons can be learnt from their unique insight into how prison mental health services are run to improve processes and collaborative working in the management of young offenders with mental health difficulties.

This preliminary and exploratory study is, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, the first study evaluating service provision by using the perspectives of POs. The findings suggest that POs make valuable contributions to the service development and should be involved in similar evaluations in future.

Salma Ali, Jessica Phipps
The Journal of Forensic Practice, Volume 22, Issue 3