BMC psychiatry

Employment of ex-prisoners with mental health problems, a realistic evaluation protocol.

PMID 26231657


Offenders with a mental illness are routinely excluded from vocational services due to their mental health. Employment has shown to be very important in improving mental health, reducing recidivism, and connecting people to society. This study examines the effectiveness of an established intervention which is relatively untested in this population, Individual Placement and Support (IPS), to help offenders with mental health problems into competitive employment. The overall research question is whether IPS is effective in gaining and sustaining competitive employment for offenders with a Severe Mental Illness (SMI). The context is an English criminal justice setting across different populations. The study will also measure non-vocational outcomes such as recidivism, mental health and social stability. A Realistic Evaluation (RE) design will address the questions "What works, for whom, and in what circumstances?" This study includes pre and post comparisons for a cohort of approximately 20 people taking part in IPS, and a similar number of controls, over a one year period. The RE also consists of interviews with practitioners and offenders in order to understand how IPS works and develops within the criminal justice system (CJS). By applying this framework the research can go from discovering whether IPS works, to how and why (or why not) IPS works. This is achieved by examining where the intervention is occurring (Context (C)), the mechanisms (M) that create particular behaviours, and how the outcomes (O) from the intervention all come together (CMOs). Employment outcomes will also be examined for all participants. By applying RE the research will permit inferences to be drawn about how and why (or why not) IPS works, by examining context, mechanisms and outcomes. IPS has never been implemented within the CJS in the United Kingdom. As a result, this evaluative research will not only provide a novel insight into the core research areas, but also how the intervention can be improved for others in the future.