With no standard information or guidance about health for people entering UK prisons, induction packs for new prisoners vary in content and availability. Literacy skills are often poor – reportedly 50 per cent of inmates have a reading ability below that expected for an 11-year-old.
Prison staff struggle to identify and meet the health needs of prisoners, and the environment means inmates struggle to cope with their mental health.
Faced with a lot of time on their hands boredom and frustration can lead to poor mental health and depression is common among inmates.
There are strict regulations about what can be given to prisoners. Any items that can be used to cause harm or made into a weapon will not pass prison security, so creating a safe, cost-effective product adds to the challenge.
The Inside Guide, the first of its kind in England, is an innovative information, activity and self-help pack for prisoners to use in their cells.
Verve worked with Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, and User Voice, an organisation run by ex-offenders, researched and consulted on the most useful, meaningful and relevant content to support prisoners. These ideas were developed with the help of clinical experts.
Verve adapted the content and created materials. With the low literacy level, copywriting was critical and making sure it was easy to read and accessible was crucial. Communicating complex information in ways that were easy to understand was aided by the layout, tables, and use of colourful and engaging symbols that matched running themes within the pack.
Special consideration was made for prison regulation such as avoiding staples, and a relaxation CD was co-designed with young offenders and produced as part of the pack.
A special section is dedicated to physical exercise, yoga and other relaxation exercises suitable to practise in a prison cell with supporting graphics.
The Health Passport element helps inmates keep track of their health and the gives healthcare professionals information on how they are coping. The passport allows inmates to write down all their individual health needs, concerns and appointments in one place. The passport format means that it can be kept safely and prevent it being lost during movement and transfers.
The pack helps prisoners understand and manage their health and mental health while in prison, alleviate boredom with games and activities, plan their future and their release, and find out where they can get help. The booklet is colourful, engaging and easy to read ensuring it is accessible to prisoners.
10,000 Inside Guide packs has been distributed to London prisons with plans for further development and distribution to more prisons in the UK.
The Inside Guide has received positive feedback from prisoners, and has also been endorsed and praised by NHS commissioners who set the national strategy and direction for commissioning health services and promotion. Prison governors and mental health teams are welcoming the resource to engage prisoners and promote mental health support.
The Trust is now considering a similar resource for acute inpatients and for younger people using Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Services as a means to support mental health self-management.
“These are an excellent resource for our service users and I would encourage you to use them freely.” – Lead Clinical Psychologist and Therapies Lead, HMP Pentonville
“These in-cell packs are amazing and the patients who we have been providing them to over the last few weeks have found them extremely helpful and informative.” – Primary Care Mental Health Lead, HMP Pentonville