Counselling in Prisons Network

Legal basis (mandates) and mission

The Counselling in Prisons Network is a registered legal body based in the United Kingdom.

It is very clear that counselling and psychological therapy have a significant role to play in addressing the complex needs of offenders, ex-offenders and other groups within the criminal justice system, particularly in terms of non-pharmacological intervention. Emotional needs and the existence of pre-existing undiagnosed mental illness and imported distress frequently appear to be unrecognized and under-researched; they are often under-reported by prisoners and consequently often go untreated. This is particularly so within the context of the criminal justice system.

Current evidence on how these prisoners engage with professional staff in custodial settings prior to and following disclosure of pre-existing undiagnosed mental illness or trauma, such as abuse as a child or having been raped as an adult, is scant and requires further study.

The mission of the Counselling in Prisons Network is:

  • to pool expertise and share knowledge through networking, conferences and a virtual learning site;
  • to provide support to members of the network in their counselling practice; and
  • to conduct relevant research in order to inform practice and development.

Topics of interest in the prison setting

The Counselling in Prisons Network believes that the establishment of an integrated and coordinated approach, which addresses the complex needs of offenders who have suffered some form or sexual violence or trauma, is required for effective work in the criminal justice system. This view is taken from the network’s evidence base and feedback from practitioners.

Development of a range of informed responses within the institutional setting and within the wider criminal justice system is needed. This could begin to address the psychological, emotional and therapeutic needs of those offenders who disclose abuse and trauma and other associated mental health issues.

  • One response involves delivering therapeutic interventions for vulnerable offender groups, including older people; older people with diagnoses of different forms of dementia; and offenders who have suffered some form of trauma – complex or otherwise – whether sexual, physical or mental.
  • A second response involves identifying and delivering interventions for offenders who have suffered complex trauma, including offenders with some form of dissociated identity disorder; offenders with a personality disorder; veterans in prison with a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder; and female offenders who have suffered some form of trauma, pre-existing or within the custodial setting.
  • A third response consists of working with female sex offenders.

Strategic operations

A key aim of the Counselling in Prisons Network strategy is to begin to develop a constructive and therapeutic culture that both promotes psychological growth for offenders and ex-offenders and offers the opportunity for healthy relationships between staff and inmates to develop, where abuse issues and trauma can be disclosed.

The strategy is designed to facilitate this process. The approach is based on the single aim of reducing re-victimization of the offender and therefore reducing associated mental health problems and maladaptive behaviours. It puts the victim at the centre of the process.

The overall strategy involves several components:

  • to equip therapists and criminal justice personnel to engage with offenders/ex-offenders while providing them with an understanding of offenders’ complex needs and perspectives in such a way as to encourage and manage disclosures of trauma and imported distress in a health-promoting and appropriately ethical way;
  • to raise awareness among both staff and offenders of the complex psychological and emotional issues faced by the victims of sexual abuse within the institutional setting through the introduction of awareness-raising material, with the goal of providing a deeper understanding of these issues;
  • to prepare prison personnel in the effective and safe management of offenders/ex-offenders who have been victims of sexual violence and trauma;
  • to reduce challenging and difficult behaviour and to provide effective therapeutic interventions within the institutional setting by providing a bridge that reduces re-victimization and facilitates empowerment when offenders seek therapeutic help and support; and
  • to reduce related mental health problems.

The strategy attempts to address four key areas:

  • raising the awareness of criminal justice personnel while deepening their understanding of offenders/ex-offenders who have suffered trauma or have some form of imported distress, making engagement more effective and reducing barriers between staff and victim;
  • creating a constructive and therapeutic regime within which offenders/ex-offenders can disclose their abuse/trauma/imported distress to officers on the landing and within the prison as a whole, thereby potentially reducing the time between suffering as a victim and getting help;
  • identifying appropriate care pathways for victims of sexual abuse/trauma/imported distress both inside and outside the prison in order to support the victim in treatment and recovery; and
  • providing a clear understanding of the role of counselling/therapy within the criminal justice system and in the life of the person receiving the therapy.

Role in prisons

The Counselling in Prisons Network aims to deliver a range of ethical therapeutic interventions in prisons, with a view to addressing the roots of offending behaviour.

Target groups

All groups who have suffered some form of emotional or psychological distress within the criminal justice system (which may include loss or bereavement issues) may benefit from the strategy.

Geographical region of focus

The United Kingdom is the main region of focus, but the Counselling in Prisons Network is keen to develop networks to share best practice across Europe, with a view to growing an evidence base for working therapeutically in the criminal justice system.