Employment of ex-prisoners with mental health problems: a review

Date14 March 2016
Publication Date14 March 2016
AuthorIan Stewart Hamilton
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
Employment of ex-prisoners with mental
health problems: a review
Ian Stewart Hamilton
Ian Stewart Hamilton is based
at the University of Nottingham,
Nottingham, UK.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine the research within the area of employment for
ex-prisoners who have a Serious Mental Illness (SMI).
Design/methodology/approach A review of the literature examining the employment of ex-offenders who
have a SMI whilst also presenting a possible novel solution.
Findings The research highlights a distinct lack of employment opportunities and numerous barriers for
offenders with research often failing to distinguish between those who have mental health difficulties.
However, early findings suggest that Individual Placement and Support (IPS) approaches can generate
competitive employment for this population.
Practical implications Offenders with a SMI are often routinely excluded from vocational services due to
their mental health. This review has indicated that the way in which such offenders are treated in prison and
reintegrated into the community needs to be addressed.
Social implications By tackling this issue not only could the mental health and quality of life of ex-offenders
be improved through sustained employment, but the marked economic costs to society that unemployment
and recidivism encompasses could also be alleviated.
Originality/value This review not only suggests a possible solution to the problems faced by offenders
with mental health difficulties in gaining employment, but also presents a novel approach to future research
that extends to outlining causal explanations for what works for whom.
Keywords Recidivism, IPS, Individual Placement and Support, Mentally disordered offenders,
Offender employment, Supported employment
Paper type General review
A Serious Mental Illness (SMI) could be defined as [] a clinically significant behavioural or
psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with
present distress (e.g. a painful symptom) or disability (i.e. impairment in one or more important
areas of functioning) [](American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 31). It is important to note
that there are varying definitions of a mental illness and measures to diagnose a SMI, as a result,
the term mental illness within this paper refers to self-reported mental health difficulties or such
given by a doctor, often lasting over six months. However, this does not necessarily mean that a
clinically diagnosed SMI, which can include more than one prolonged mental disorder often given
by a psychiatrist, as defined above, fails to exist, only that it is unclear whether it is present. The
employment rate for people with a SMI is substantially worse than the general population. For
example, in England, only 7.3 per cent of people who have a SMI are in employment (Health and
Social Care Information Centre, 2013) whilst the gap between people who have any mental
illness and the general population is 37.1 per cent (Health and Social Care Information Centre,
2014). In the USA from 2003 to 2012, the employment rate of those with a SMI has decreased
Received 31 May 2015
Revised 20 October 2015
25 December 2015
Accepted 3 January 2016
VOL. 2 NO. 1 2016, pp.40-53, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-05-2015-0016

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