The majority of individuals within the criminal justice system have been exposed to traumatic events across their lives. A considerable body of research now indicates a link between traumatic experiences and subsequent criminal behaviour and aggression, otherwise known as the ‘cycle of violence’. Complex trauma-related problems present in many guises, including seeking-risk or challenging behaviours, and may be the product of coping mechanisms and attempted self-protection. Being trauma informed is a way that non-clinical organisations can demonstrate that they are therapeutic.
Thanks to a kind donation by the Rothschild Foundation, we have been able to expand our support and training to allow for the integration of a trauma informed approach. We believe that the principles underpinning trauma informed practice are essential in the delivery of effective support to young people in prison. In particular, developing a trauma informed approach has been central to support our work in our new project, Cookham Wood Youth Offenders Institute (YOI). Up to “90% of justice-involved-youth report exposure to some type of traumatic event” (Dierkhising et al, 2013).
The basic assumptions of a trauma informed approach are safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment (Quiros and Berger, 2013). Fundamentally, at the core of our courses, we build strong and influential relationships based on trust, support and through sport education.
Trauma informed practice will also allow us to support the participants’ recovery, facilitating personal and social development, and more importantly, avoiding re-traumatization. Complementary to our courses, using a trauma-informed and strengths-based approach will promote natural resiliency and provide young people with the tools to positively manage their emotions.
Overall, implementing a trauma informed approach for 3 Pillars Project has involved organizational change, including the reassessment of policies, course practices, and the training of staff. By no means does this assume that our coaches and mentors will be trauma-experts, however, by providing a trauma informed approach, we will be more equipped in our interactions with the participants going forward, emphasising trust, collaboration and safety in particular.
In 2018, 3 Pillars Project will be implementing a Trauma Informed model of intervention for our courses. We believe that the principles underpinning trauma informed practice are essential in the delivery of effective support to young people in prison. A participant does not need to have suffered trauma to benefit from a Trauma Informed approach. Being trauma informed is a way that non-clinical mental health organisations can demonstrate that they are therapeutic. No experience of trauma is necessarily required in order for the trauma informed approach to be effective, consequently even if participants have not experienced trauma they will still benefit from a trauma informed approach.
The first step in this approach came by completing the two-day Mental Health First Aid Training course. Hosted by Robustmind Mental Fitness, delivered by Steve Metcalf, the course gives an introduction to a range of topics relating to mental health, including depression, suicidal crisis, anxiety, self-harm and psychosis, how to help recognise the symptoms of mental health issues, how to provide initial help, and how to guide someone towards appropriate professional help. By no means does it make attendees experts, but it is a good starting point for greater mental health awareness.
Approximately one in four adults are diagnosed with a mental illness during their life (Mind, April 2017). Research suggests that prisoners have a disproportionately high rate of mental health issues. Many of these may be present before entry to prison due to complex social and personal issues such as substance misuse or trauma and may be further exacerbated by the stress of imprisonment. However, mental disorders may also develop during imprisonment itself as a consequence of the prevailing conditions that have a negative effect on mental health, including overcrowding, violence, isolation, and insecurity.
Improving the mental health of those in prison requires a change in effort and resources. As part of our work directly engaging with young people in prison, 3 Pillars Project aims to be more aware of the problems faced by those with mental health issues in prison, and in particular support the management of these in prison and beyond.
Author: Mike Crofts
Mike is the Founder and CEO of The 3 Pillars Project. A former Army Officer, Mike advocates the power of sport, leadership and positive role models to unlock the potential of young people.