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Identifying prisoners at greatest need of mental health assessment and treatment

Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network

  • Translational Research Grants Scheme
Date Funded:
  • 14 May, 2018
Chief Investigator/s:
  • Associate Professor Kimberlie Dean

Individuals in contact with the criminal justice system experience a particular burden of mental illness and have often had poor access to community mental health care. Imprisonment can represent an opportunity to identify those with greatest mental health need but, any benefit from treatment can be lost on release during the prison-to-community transition period if continuity of care is not supported. There has been very little research undertaken to date to guide service development and clinical interventions for prisoners with mental health problems but the concept of ‘critical-time’ intervention has been gaining some support. Such interventions are intended to target transition periods for people with severe mental illnesses that can present a risk of deterioration in mental health and other associated outcomes.

The proposed research project aims to test a novel ‘critical-time’ intervention to support/facilitate continuity of mental health care during the prison-to-community transition period. The intervention (characterised by three elements – early contact with community service, individualised care planning and post-release follow-up) will be embedded in a structured and validated mental health screening process previously developed by the research team and currently being translated into routine practice across prisons in NSW. Embedding the intervention in screening at reception will ensure that the prison-to-community transition planning begins early and is individualised on the basis of the results of screening and subsequent assessment. The research team will examine the feasibility of such an intervention in NSW and will test the efficacy of the approach using a randomised controlled trial design with multi-source follow-up.

The research team has developed partnerships with mental health providers spanning the custodial and community divide in order to facilitate the project and to subsequently disseminate the research findings. If the intervention is found to be feasible and efficacious, a plan to scale-up the intervention will be developed with study partners.

Collaborators: Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Ministry of Health (Mental Health Branch)