Supporting women leaving prison through peer health mentoring: a participatory health research study [2020]

Background: During the transition between prison and community, people are at greatly increased risk for adverse health outcomes. This study describes a peer health mentoring program that supports women in the first 3 days after their release from a provincial correctional facility in British Columbia.

Methods: We used a participatory health research framework to develop multimethod processes to describe the Unlocking the Gates Peer Health Mentoring Program. Mentors are women with incarceration experience. Between 2013 and 2018, women released from Alouette Correctional Centre for Women were invited to access the program. All program clients were invited to participate in the surveys and interviews. We analyzed survey and interview data using descriptive analysis for quantitative data and content analysis for qualitative data.

Results: There were 346 program contacts from 340 women over the study period. For every contact, a telephone interview was conducted. Among the 346 contacts, 173 women met their mentor, of whom 172 (99.4%) completed the intake and consent forms. A total of 105 women (61.0%) completed a program activity feedback survey at the end of the mentoring period. Women identified a range of needed supports during the transition from prison to community, including access to clothing, social assistance, housing and health care. Participants described a mix of emotions surrounding release, including excitement, anxiety, hope, and a wish for understanding and support. Within 3 days of release, 49 participants (46.7%) had accessed a family physician, and 89 (84.8%) had accessed at least 1 community resource. Ninety-eight participants (93.3%) reported that their mentor assisted them in accessing community resources.

Interpretation: Peer health mentoring provides valuable, multifaceted support in helping women to navigate health and social services and to meet their basic needs. Strengthening health supports during the transition from prison to community is critical to promoting the health and well-being of women leaving prison.

Katherine E. McLeod, MPH, Mo Korchinski, RSW, Pamela Young, Tammy Milkovich, Christine Hemingway, Michelle DeGroot, MSc, Lara-Lisa Condello, MA, Lynn Fels, PhD, Jane A. Buxton, MBBS MHSc, Patricia A. Janssen, PhD, Alison Granger-Brown, PhD, Vivian Ramsden, PhD, Marla Buchanan, PhD, Ruth Elwood Martin, MD MPH
CMAJ Open, February 18, 2020 vol. 8 no. 1
DOI: 10.9778/cmajo.20190106