The term ‘offender’ refers to an individual who has come into contact with the criminal justice system by committing a crime or violating a law.

The link between offending, re-offending and the impact on health is well known.

Offenders and ex-offenders are far more likely to be more socially isolated and marginalised than the general population and to have a broader range of health concerns. As the number of people who come into contact with the criminal justice sector increases, there will be an increasing number of ex-offenders in communities.

There is a real need to divert offenders who have serious mental health problems away from prison and into the appropriate health service facilities. The needs of those suffering from physical health problems and from substance misuse and abuse must also be addressed.

This topic links with the following JSNA topics:

Last updated: 2016-01-27 11:24:06
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1. What are the key issues?


  • 90% of prisoners have substance misuse problems, mental health problems or both;
  • 72% of male prisoners and 70% of female prisoners suffer from two or more mental health disorders;
  • 20% of prisoners have four or five major mental health disorders;
  • 83% of prisoners smoke (averaging 16 cigarettes per day);
  • 9% of prisoners suffer from severe and enduring mental health illness;
  • 10% of prisoners have a learning disability;
  • up to 50% of new prisoners are estimated to be problem drug users;
  • 40% of prisoners declare no contact with primary care prior to detention;
  • People who have been in prison are up to 30 times more likely to commit suicide (in the first month after discharge from prison) than the general population;
  • 20% of male and 37% of female sentenced prisoners have previously attempted suicide;
  • There is often poor continuity of health care information on admission to prison, on movement between prisons and on release;
  • 49% of male, sentenced prisoners were excluded from school (2% in general population).


  • The Stockton-on-Tees Drug and Alcohol Action Team’s Drugs Needs Assessment (2010/11) identifies a strong link between drug use and criminal activity. It is a priority to ensure that drug misusing offenders are engaged within structured and effective treatment.
  • The Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust caseload shows that prisoners with mental health problems have increased in 2011. This is an area where signposting, support and further investment will be required.
Last updated: 09/01/13

2. What commissioning priorities are recommended?


Ensure that the mental health needs of offenders are identified and supported.


Ensure that the learning difficulties and/or disabilities of offenders are identified and supported.


Ensure that effective interventions take place in respect of blood borne viruses in the prisons and the community.


Ensure that all drug-related strategies and services continue to develop an outcome-based focus in line with the outcomes described in the HM Government Drug Strategy 2010.


Ensure that the needs of female offenders are identified and supported.


Ensure that pathways into suitable and sustainable accommodation and employment continue to be developed and supported.


Ensure that the needs of children of offenders are supported, giving particular attention to the following principles:

  • The trauma experienced by children during the arrest of a family member(s) should be minimised;
  • Parents should be placed in a prison near to their family base with an appropriate level of visits allowed; and
  • Specialist support (especially mental health) for children who have parents in contact with the criminal justice system should be provided.
Last updated: 09/01/13

3. Who is at risk and why?

Content currently being revised.

Last updated: 09/01/13

4. What is the level of need in the population?

Content currently being revised.

Last updated: 09/01/13

5. What services are currently provided?

Big Diversion Project (BDP)

The BDP relates to the whole criminal justice pathway from pre-arrest to community or custody disposal. This adds a new objective to the North East Offender Health Commissioning Unit’s remit to improve the health and social functioning of adult offenders and reduce re-offending by offering timely and appropriate interventions to meet their needs through effective liaison and diversion services.

HMP Holme House

Clinical provision is provided by CareUK and includes a full range of healthcare interventions including substitute prescribing for substance misusers.

There are currently four non-clinical, drug treatment-specific services:

  • CARAT service (Counselling, Advice, Referral, and Throughcare) is the primary method used to address the non-clinical treatment needs of the majority of prisoners with substance misuse problems;
  • Short Duration Programme (SDP) is an intensive 4-week programme focused on harm reduction goals and based on cognitive behavioural goals;
  • Therapeutic Community (TC) is a residential, 10 to 12 month programme, focused on abstinence goals and based on pro-social modelling, cognitive behavioural and peer support techniques;
  • Drug Recovery Wing (DRW) is a residential programme and requires a commitment to reduce medication.

Work continues to include prisoners in the bowel screening programme.  A regional solution is being developed and supported by the regional cancer screening hub.

Prisoners have access to retinal screening in Holme House and Kirklevington Grange via a visiting service and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening is currently being introduced.

NHS Health Checks have been commenced within both prisons via CareUK.

HMP Kirklevington Grange

  • Kirklevington has a CARATS service and clinical healthcare provision similar to that of Holme House.

DTV Probation Trust

  • Health trainers have been in post since May 2011
  • Offender managers work with offenders on a one-to-one basis and in conjunction with community resources and partner agencies to address individually identified criminogenic needs as outlined in the offender’s sentence plan.
  • Alcohol treatment and drug rehabilitation requirements are available as a statutory requirement of a community/suspended sentence order. However, the continuing provision of such interventions is dependent upon local authority area/PCT funding allocations/priorities.

Youth offending service (YOS)

The YOS staff are trained to identify substance use issues and to deliver up to a tier-2 (harm reduction advice & information) service. 

STASH (young person’s substance use service)

Tier-3 interventions are available via STASH and effective joint working relationships supported by a written working agreement enhance the service for young people.  STASH support transitions into adult services when young people are approaching the age of 18-years-old.  They particularly provide support at this stage for those young people who have reduced levels of maturity or learning difficulties to improve outcomes.  Joint working is extended to the secure estate to ensure that young people on remand or serving a custodial sentence receive continuity of care. 

Children & adolescent mental health service (CAMHS)

The youth offending service (YOS) has one full-time health worker post who works between YOS and CAMHS. They facilitate prompt access to specialist mental health assessments and interventions for young people with needs identified by YOS officers via the Asset screening process. 

Middlesbrough & Stockton Mind

Prison mentoring service

This is a confidential one-to-one person-centred mentoring service for men leaving prison throughout the North East who are experiencing mental health problems.  The overall aim of the mentoring service is to support male ex-prisoners as they re-settle into the community, improving their wellbeing and reducing the likelihood that they will re-offend. 

The criminal justice service is a volunteer-led project in Middlesbrough. This service provides various services for people with mental ill health throughout the criminal justice process.  Offender specific services are:

  • Prison counselling service - This provides counselling to prisoners in Holme House prison, Kirklevington prison and ex-offenders within the community. The counselling service provides confidential, one to one person-centred counselling for offenders with mental health problems.
  • Court support service - The court support service will provide one-to-one support for people who are experiencing mental ill-health and/or learning difficulties who are attending court.  The service will help prepare clients for court, attend court and provide support post court for a period of up to 6 months.
Last updated: 09/01/13

6. What is the projected level of need?

The DTV Probation health needs assessment identifies several trends that are getting worse, especially those related to mental health and to smoking.

Early indications are that alcohol and drug misuse continue to have a significant impact on offender health with alcohol misuse a particular concern. The Local Alcohol Profile (LAPE) shows that there are more alcohol-related admissions locally each year and that alcohol-related mortality is increasing for males.

The evidence base from national data sets and research would indicate that mental health continues to be a key area of concern and that overarching issues such as accommodation and employment affect offender health.

Last updated: 09/01/13

7. What needs might be unmet?

Mental health

There is clearly a high level of need amongst offenders in respect of mental health. It has already been identified in local and national needs assessments that this is an issue.

Learning difficulties/disabilities

It is unknown how many offenders have learning difficulties/disabilities that are undiagnosed and therefore have unmet support needs.

Substance misuse

Alcohol misuse remains a major problem with the long-term consequences for healthcare. Access to support via primary, secondary and specialist care is available, but this needs to be extended (especially in relation to early interventions). The type of drug(s) an offender uses dictates the intervention/s offered to them. This process needs to be further developed to meet the changing profile in substances used.


Smoking remains a major risk to health. There are some processes in place for dealing with smoking and other lifestyle risks (staff working within the criminal justice system or via referral to community services) but this does not meet all the needs of the client group.

Housing & employment

Access to appropriate housing and to employment is a key priority. This has a major impact on reducing offending and improving health.

Female offenders

There are difficulties associated with engaging females into support and/or treatment and there is the possibility that vulnerable women will not use services.

Young offenders

If youth offending service officers do not have access to the relevant training and associated support then it increases the possibility that young offenders health needs will be unmet.

Children of offenders

The level of need is not currently known for children of offenders. Investigation, effective interventions and integrated working is required.

Needs analysis

There is a need to improve processes for identifying unmet needs. There is an under-reporting of mental illness, learning disabilities and blood borne viruses.

Last updated: 09/01/13

8. What evidence is there for effective intervention?

Content currently being revised.

Last updated: 09/01/13

9. What do people say?

Durham Tees-Valley (DTV) Probation Trust

Stopping smoking was identified as a main need by 24% of respondents to the 2011 DTV Probation Trust HNA questionnaire.

The DTV Probation Trust caseloads for mental health have increased in 2011 and this is clearly an area where signposting, support and further investment will be required. 

DTV Probation HNA 2011 report states than 20% of respondents are currently misusing illegal or prescription drugs. 26% of respondents felt they wanted or needed to cut down on their drug use.

The DTV Probation HNA 2011 showed a considerable rise in the number of respondents who felt they should cut down their drinking; from 35% in 2008 to 47%.  Nationally, just under 5% of adults disclose drinking at harmful levels and 17.5% disclose being binge drinkers (Source: Local Alcohol Profiles England

In 2011, there were a higher number of offenders (47%) who felt guilty about their drinking, than 39% in 2008.

In 2011, there was an increase in the number of offenders who had had a drink first thing in the morning from 24% in 2008 to 29% in 2011.

The DTV Probation Trust caseload has had an increase in the number of respondents who identify themselves as smokers (from 72.8% in 2008 to 77% in 2011).

Last updated: 09/01/13

10. What additional needs assessment is required?

  • Within prisons, issues such as housing and employment need to be addressed in the health needs assessments as these all impact heavily on health outcomes.
  • The needs of children of offenders require further investigation.
  • An assessment of need is required for young offenders who have speech, language and communication problems.
  • The “Big Diversion Project” needs to be used to gather information for future needs analysis.
  • Further information may be accessible via HM Courts Service and as the JSNA develops, this will be considered and updated where appropriate.
Last updated: 09/01/13

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