Mental health program cuts violence in jails

An new evaluation of a Red Cross prisons program by Flinders criminology experts has found it contributes to a reduction prison violence, an increase in health and safety, and improved relationships between prisoners and guards.

Red Cross commissioned the Flinders University research into Red Cross’ Community Based Mental Health First Aid program (CBHFA) at the Townsville Womens’ Correctional Centre (TWCC) over 12 months last year.

The program is in four prisons in Australia, including the Adelaide Women’s Prison and Acacia Prison in WA, and is run internationally by Red Cross after its introduction in the Irish Prison System in 2009 where it lead to dramatic reductions in violence, and improvements in prison health and culture.

Red Cross Team Leader Community Justice and Partnerships Rachel Montgomery says the CBHFA program recruits prisoners to become Red Cross volunteers. The volunteers are then trained in modules including first aid, mental health first aid and community development, allowing them to effectively engage with and consult their community.

The training includes many elements that are also helpful after being released, helping with reintegration and taking up new opportunities.

“The volunteers are supported to analyse the health and wellbeing needs of the prison community and develop and implement projects which address these needs in partnership with prison staff and with support from Red Cross,” she says.

“The program and projects undertaken are led entirely by the volunteers who are empowered and supported to improve the health, wellbeing and safety of their prison community.

The methodology ensures that volunteers learn by doing and encourages personal development and accountability. These skills benefit volunteers and the broader prison community and have long term benefits for volunteers that transfer beyond the prison gate.”

Flinders University the Centre for Crime Policy and Research researcher Associate Professor David Bright says the evaluation also looked at one of the program’s aims, to improved skills and knowledge for prison volunteers to help their reintegration post release, which in turn leads to reduced risks of reoffending.

“It found 75% of volunteers indicated they have really changed from who they were when they first came into prison,” he says.

“This indicates improved self-confidence, feelings of worthiness and hope for the future, with 50% of volunteers feeling hopeful and positive about the future.

“There were notable changes in levels of confidence, self-esteem and life-skills competency of both participants and some prisoners beyond the CBHFA participants,” Associate Professor Bright says.

General Manager of Townsville Correctional Complex Chief Superintendent Louise Kneeshaw says that programs like this are useful for Queensland Corrective Services to continue supporting women’s healthcare outcomes while in prison.

“We know through research that when we support women in prison and enable positive mental and physical health outcomes, there is greater chance that they will be able to live healthier, more fulfilling lives in the community,” Chief Superintendent Kneeshaw said.

“We are proud to partner with Red Cross to provide important programs like this to improve the lives of women that are in our care.”

The evaluation summary can be found on the Red Cross website here (insert link)

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