Facilitating people living with severe and persistent mental illness to transition from prison to community: a qualitative exploration of staff experiences [2018]

Transition from prison to community is a challenging time for all people who have been incarcerated. It is particularly challenging for those also living with serious and persistent mental illness. This study explored staff experiences and perspectives of what helped and hindered them in their work to support that transition.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 mental health staff working across three service sectors directly engaged in the process of supporting people with mental illness transitioning from prison to community; the forensic mental health provider Justice Health, Community Mental Health and a non-government delivered community-based service called Partners in Recovery. Data were analysed using constant comparative analysis.

Five main themes were identified through the analysis. All five themes were key practices that, when occurring, supported staff to work in a way that they felt would maximise positive outcomes for people transitioning from prison to community. These included: housing secured before release; clearly defined and effective communication pathways; shared understanding of systems and roles; in-reach and continuity of contact, and consumers’ pre-release preparation and knowledge. All staff participants described barriers to good transition to community outcomes when some or all of these practices could not, or did not, occur.

Staff experiences highlight the complexity but importance of getting multi-sectorial partnerships and practices right for good prison to community transitions for people living with serious and persistent mental illness. Currently fragmented and disparate systems and practices need to align and clear expectations and understandings need to be shared across the whole. These changes, along with prioritised housing are likely to lead to better long-term outcomes for people.

Nicola Hancock, Jennifer Smith-Merry and Kirsty Mckenzie

International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 2018 12:45