Prisons ‘failing’ on mental health work preparation


Many offenders with mental health conditions are not being allowed to take part in prison-based job preparation schemes, according to a new report.

The policy paper, by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (SCMH), says many schemes exclude mental health service-users because staff do not believe they are ready to find work when they are released.

The report, Securing Employment for Offenders with Mental Health Problems, based on a review of existing research, also says that most job schemes place too much emphasis on learning skills rather than helping people to secure and keep jobs.

And it says there are too few links with local employers and too little support once offenders have left prison.

One prisoner in ten has a severe mental health condition, while the “vast majority” of prisoners and at least half those serving community sentences have a significant mental health condition, according to the report.

Most offenders with mental health conditions are out of work both before and after spending time in prison, even though having a job is the biggest factor in reducing reoffending.

Dr Bob Grove, SCMH’s employment programme director, said: “The vast majority of prisoners have mental health problems, yet many are routinely excluded from vocational activities in prison because they are assumed not to be capable of working. This is a massive waste of human potential.”

But the policy paper says some prison schemes have proved successful, such as those using former offenders as mentors.

It concludes that many of the most successful schemes are those that provide paid jobs with local employers within three months of release, and then offer prisoners ongoing support once they are in work, as well as ensuring links with health, housing, benefits and probation agencies.

And it says specialist employment support workers should be used to work both in prison and the community to ensure continuous support.

The report concludes: “A change in emphasis is now needed to make better use of existing resources and to underline the importance of placing people in jobs first and then provide training as required, not vice versa.”

And it adds: “Steps should be taken to address the discrimination within the system that perpetuates the myth that people have to be completely well before they can consider work.”

3 September 2009

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