Background Prison Offenders are among the often hard to reach groups of society who do not engage in bereavement care. A culture of ‘not talking’ and fear of vulnerability in a prison environment can create difficult behaviours which hide the true cause of distress. In 2018 we were invited to attend a mental health event in a local Open Prison where it became apparent that many of the inmates had suffered significant bereavements in their lives for which they had never received support. We felt immediately that this was an area we could have an impact.
Aim To support inmates/residents through current or historic bereavements and improve their life chances on release.
Methods We created a counselling service to help inmates explore bereavement, the emotions, feelings and behaviours associated with loss and grief, and effective and positive coping strategies. We also trained peer mentors and staff to support bereaved inmates and established a bereavement group.
Results Feedback from service users and prison staff has been overwhelmingly positive. Inmates report significant improvements in their ability to cope with the strong emotions that accompany grief and loss, a better understanding of how this can lead to poor coping strategies and the ability to process and come to terms with death and dying. The Samaritans service at the prison reported that previously bereavement was consistently among the top three presenting issues of inmates, since the service began this is no longer cited as a reason for contacting their service.
Conclusions The need was identified to support a group of people who rarely engage with talking therapies or hospice care. By creating the bereavement service, we have made a measurable difference to the lives of inmates. We intend to use the learning from this project to develop services for other hard to reach groups.