Working with mentally ill offenders: are current levels of collaboration between health/social care professionals and prison officers sufficient?
Authors: Hean, S.
Journal: Medicine Science and the Law
Publisher: SAGE Publications (UK and US)
Offenders’ mental health mediates the success with which reoffending risk factors are managed. The work activity of different health, social care and prison services overlap when these professions support the offender individually and collaboration between them is required. This paper explores perceptions of levels of collaboration, specifically relational coordination (RC), between these professionals, within the international context of the Norwegian prison system. It identifies current levels of RC between groups and the difference between the actual levels of RC and what is deemed as necessary. A survey using an adaptation of Gittell’s Relational coordination scale was administered to prison officers across 4 regions of Norway (n=160). Prison officers reported different levels of collaboration across professional groups (F=605.319; d.f. =7; p<0.001), with the lowest levels being noted between prison officers, specialist mental health staff and prison doctors. Relational coordination was high with nurses, social workers and other prison officers suggesting that, with the exception of the prison doctor, it is primary health care professionals that prison officers turn to first when managing and supporting a mentally ill offender. But significant differences between desired and actual levels of relational coordination suggests their expertise may be insufficient and prison officers also require contact with mental health specialists when dealing with the mentally ill offender. The implications of these findings in relation to staff training and how mental health and prison services may be better integrated is discussed.