The feasibility of following up prisoners, with mental health problems, after release: A pilot trial employing an innovative system, for engagement and retention in research, with a harder to engage population.
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BACKGROUND: Following up released prisoners is demanding, particularly for those prisoners with mental health problems, for whom stigma and chaotic lifestyles are problematic. Measurement of mental health outcomes after release is challenging. To evaluate mental healthcare for offender populations, using high-quality randomised controlled trials, evidenced-based methods must be developed to engage them while in custody, to locate and re-interview them after release, and to collect potentially stigmatising mental health outcomes data. METHODS: We developed an initial theoretical model and operational procedures for collecting baseline and follow-up data informed by a literature search, focus groups, and case studies. Male prisoners from five prisons in two sites were invited to participate. The inclusion criteria included individuals who were above threshold on nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire, seven-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder scales, or who had reported mental health problems in the past 2 years or had been assessed with a likely personality disorder. Potential participants were interviewed to generate baseline data and were re-contacted before their release. We then contacted them for a follow-up interview, which included repeating the earlier data collection measures 2-8 weeks after release. A qualitative formative process evaluation produced and refined a model procedure for the recruitment and retention of male prison leavers in trials, identified the mechanisms which promoted engagement and retention, and mapped these against a theoretical behaviour change model. RESULTS: We developed a flexible procedure which was successful in recruiting male prison leavers to a pilot trial: 185/243 (76%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 70-81%) of those approached agreed to participate. We also retained 63% (95% CI 54-71%) of those eligible to participate in a follow-up interview 2-8 weeks after release. Mental health outcomes data was collected at both these time points. CONCLUSIONS: It is possible to design acceptable procedures to achieve sustained engagement critical for delivering and evaluating interventions in prison and in the community and to collect mental health outcomes data. These procedures may reduce attrition bias in future randomised controlled trials of mental health interventions for prison leavers. This procedure has been replicated and successfully delivered in a subsequent pilot trial and a definitive randomised controlled trial.
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