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Comparing staff and inmates’ perceptions of mental health support in prison

Vergleich der Wahrnehmung der psychologischen Unterstützung im Gefängnis aus Sicht der Bediensteten und der Inhaftierten

Abstract

The current paper presents empirical research comparing prison staff and inmates’ perceptions of staff support, inmates’ access to health services and help-seeking intentions. Participants from five European countries (Portugal, Germany, Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria) completed a survey with common questions—for both staff and inmates—adapted from previous research. Participants were 346 prison staff members (mostly security and clinical/technical staff) and 483 male inmates. Differences were found between inmates’ and staff perceptions, who rated more positive responses for most of the items, except for the one regarding inmates not knowing who to turn to if feeling sad or depressed. Results show that when feeling sad or depressed, inmates are more likely to keep it to themselves or seek the help of family members/partner. Also, 15% of staff members considered that inmates cannot visit a doctor in reasonable time. The comparison between countries revealed similarities and differences in the perceptions of both inmates and staff. The comparison between staff profiles (custody and non-custody) shows that custody staff perceive prison staff as more supportive of inmates’ negative feelings. The discussion highlights the need for mental health awareness and training among staff, particularly in the case of correctional officers.

Zusammenfassung

In der vorliegenden Arbeit wird eine empirische Untersuchung vorgestellt, in der die Wahrnehmung der Gefängnisbediensteten und der Inhaftierten hinsichtlich der Unterstützung durch die Beschäftigten, des Zugangs der Inhaftierten zu Gesundheitsdiensten und ihrer Bereitschaft, Hilfe zu suchen, verglichen wird. Teilnehmende aus fünf europäischen Ländern (Portugal, Deutschland, Rumänien, Griechenland und Bulgarien) füllten eine Umfrage mit denselben Fragen – sowohl für die Bediensteten als auch für die Inhaftierten – aus, die aus früheren Forschungsvorhaben leicht verändert übernommen worden waren. Bei den Teilnehmenden handelte es sich um 346 Gefängnisbedienstete (hauptsächlich Justizvollzugsbeamte und medizinisches Personal/Fachpersonal) und 483 männliche Inhaftierte. Es wurden Unterschiede zwischen der Wahrnehmung der Inhaftierten und der Bediensteten festgestellt, welche die meisten Fragen positiver beantworteten. Eine Ausnahme stellte die Frage dar, die sich darauf bezog, dass die Inhaftierten nicht wissen, an wen sie sich wenden können, wenn sie traurig oder deprimiert sind. Die Ergebnisse zeigen, dass die Inhaftierten, wenn sie traurig oder deprimiert sind, dies eher für sich behalten oder die Hilfe von Familienmitgliedern/Partnern suchen. Außerdem waren 15 % der Bediensteten der Ansicht, dass die Inhaftierten keine Möglichkeit haben, in angemessener Zeit einen Arzt aufzusuchen. Der Ländervergleich ergab Ähnlichkeiten und Unterschiede in der Wahrnehmungen der Inhaftierten und der Bediensteten. Der Vergleich zwischen den verschiedenen Arten der Beschäftigten (Justizvollzugsbeamte und andere) zeigt, dass die Justizvollzugsbeamten die Gefängnisbediensteten als unterstützender hinsichtlich der negativen Gefühle der Inhaftierten wahrnehmen. Die Erörterung der Ergebnisse macht deutlich, dass die Bediensteten für das Thema psychische Gesundheit sensibilisiert und geschult werden müssen, insbesondere die Justizvollzugsbeamten.

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Acknowledgements

This work was partially funded by the European Union Erasmus+ Project AWARE—“Cross-sectoral awareness building on mental health needs in the criminal justice system and on release”, Grant Agreement no. 2018-1-DE02-KA204-005144. We thank the AWARE partners, namely Ourania Xylouri (Athens Lifelong Learning Institute, Greece), Maria Toia and Daiana Huber (Centrul Pentru Promovarea Invatarii Permanente—CPIP, Romania) and Rumen Petrov (New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria) for their contribution to data collection.

Funding

This work was partially funded by the ERASMUS+ programme, Grant Agreement no. 2018-1-DE02-KA204-005144.

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Correspondence to Vítor Costa PhD.

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Conflict of interest

V. Costa, P. Koch, A.I. Cunha, G. Esgalhado and R. Williams declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary Information

Table S1 Mean, standard deviation and results of the Kruskal–Wallis, independent samples test (with inmates’ data)

Table S2 Mean, standard deviation and results of the Kruskal–Wallis, independent samples test (with staff data)

11757_2021_689_MOESM3_ESM.docx

Table S3 Comparison between custody and non-custody staff about concern of staff (with inmates) and accessibility to support structures. Table S4 Comparison between custody and non-custody staff perceptions on inmates’ help-seeking intentions towards formal sources of support

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Costa, V., Koch, P., Cunha, A.I. et al. Comparing staff and inmates’ perceptions of mental health support in prison. Forens Psychiatr Psychol Kriminol 15, 336–344 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11757-021-00689-2

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Keywords

  • Prison staff
  • Prisoners
  • Access to healthcare
  • Help-seeking intentions
  • Depression

Schlüsselwörter

  • Gefängnisbedienstete
  • Gefangene
  • Zugang zu Gesundheitsversorgung
  • Bereitschaft, Hilfe zu suchen
  • Depression