The Irish Prison Service (IPS) Psychology Service makes up part of the clinical and operational multi-disciplinary team in each prison, whose combined aim is to support the IPS achieve its mission and vision. More specifically, the IPS Psychology Service provides tailored psychological assessment and intervention services for people in custody. Decisions about assessment and intervention are made based on national and international best practice and guidelines (including ICD-10 and NICE Guidelines).
Considering the client population, there is a particular emphasis on mental health and personality disorder presentations, risk presentations (self and others), and trauma-informed approaches. Psychological interventions include both individual and group based approaches, and are provided through a Layered Model of Care (a summary of which can be found here). The service’s understanding of mental health and wellbeing is informed by a Biopsychosocial Model (originally Engel, 1977). In addition, the Nested Ecological Model (originally Garabino & Crouter, 1978; Bronfenbrenner, 1979 and more recently cited by the World Health Organisation, 2002) helpfully informs an understanding of risk-related behaviour, in particular, interpersonal violence.
The IPS Psychology Service also provides a critical role in support, consultation, education and training to the broader IPS organisation. This includes consultation with senior management in relation to very complex psychological and risk-related presentations and Recruit Prison Officer Training. Staff also represent the service at IPS, allied agency and Departmental working- and policy- development groups to provide a psychological perspective on various critical issues including mental health, sexual and gender based violence, gender-informed approaches, violence, trauma-informed care, deaths in custody and preventing violent extremism.
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IPS Psychology Service Strategy
The IPS Psychology Service was reviewed in 2015 by Dr Frank Porporino, a Canadian Psychologist specialising in mental health in custodial settings. Dr Porporino’s report, commonly known as the ‘New Connections’ report can be found here.
The New Connections report laid the foundation for the service’s first Strategic Plan (2016-2018). Based on this Strategic Plan, the service has developed dramatically over the last four years. Significant progress was made in all strategic goals, some of which are highlighted below:
- Re-location of Psychologist posts across the service for a more balanced regional approach; ensuring availability of expert psychological intervention in all closed prisons within the estate;
- The IPS Psychology Service were the first public body to employ paid Assistant Psychologists;
- A significant emphasis was placed on enhancing whole-population preventative approaches and primary care mental health interventions in custody, using a similar model to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (for offenders) UK.
- Development of national policies and protocols to ensure a consistent psychological service across all prisons;
- The development of a layered model of care;
- Increased multi-disciplinary working, including joint initiatives such as interventions for people convicted of sexual violence in conjunction with The Probation Service;
- A focus on organisational work, including: a) the development and facilitation of 10 psychologically-informed training modules for Recruit Prison Officers, and b) attendance at national policy development meetings / working groups to support more psychologically-informed organisational policy;
- Enhancing the role of the Senior Psychologist as a senior manager within each prison;
- An increase in Continual Professional Development opportunities across the Service (outlined below);
- Development of proactive referral processes to ensure better access to ‘hard to reach’ clients.
- An increase in the variety of interventions offered, including more motivation enhancing interventions.
- A strong focus on measuring service outcomes, without losing sight of the individual client;
- Increased staffing numbers;
- Introduction of a Principal Psychologist Grade;
- Co-development of the National Violence Reduction Unit, witnessing the first IPS unit co-managed by an Assistant Governor and Senior Psychologist to ensure a joint operational – psychologically informed approach to the management of people accommodated within this unit.
The IPS Psychology Service Strategic Actions 2019-2022 are embedded in the IPS Strategic Plan 2019 – 2022. They include:
- Continue to implement key recommendations from the Porporino ‘New Connections’ report (2015);
- In conjunction with IPS Healthcare, National Forensic Mental Health Service & allied services, establish a multi-disciplinary model of mental healthcare in prisons;
- Continue to provide psychologically informed input to the Irish Prison Service College and ensure Psychology staff are supported to maximise potential as clinicians;
- Continue to build on best practice offence – specific interventions and develop a best fit model of trauma informed correctional care;
- Develop interventions for prisoners who deny sexual violence;
- Enhance the Psychology Case Tracking System.
The IPS Psychology Service operates an open referral policy, meaning the service will accept referrals from all sources. The vast majority of referrals into the IPS Psychology Service are in relation to any, or a combination of the following:
- Mental health difficulties including, but not exclusive to: Mood and Anxiety Disorders, Disorders of Personality and Behaviour, (complex) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Self-Harm and Suicidal Behaviours, Eating Disorders, Psychosis and Schizophrenia, and
- Risk-related presentations including: need for a strengths, needs and risk assessment of the various factors* that culminated in the perpetration of an offence (and those factors that support desistance), preparation of Parole Board reports, risk-related intervention**, complex case and risk management consultation.
*Risk factors may include some of the following: violence or other anti-social behaviour (past or present), relationship difficulties, employment difficulties, substance misuse, major mental disorder, personality disorder, traumatic experiences, violent / anti-social attitudes, poor insight, anti-social ideation or intent, cognitive, behavioural or emotional instability, poor stress / coping responses.
** The IPS Psychology Service see intervention with, and prevention of violence as requiring a ‘public health approach’ by addressing underlying risk factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will become a victim or a perpetrator of violence (WHO, 2019).
The IPS Psychology Service work with both men and women in custody, from 18 – 80+ years. In addition to the above highlighted presentations, the service provides assessment and intervention with people presenting with developmental disorders, intellectual difficulties, cognitive decline and dementia, and traumatic brain injuries.
The Service also operates a ‘proactive’ referral service for particular cohorts of people in custody. On receipt of a referral from Integrated Sentence Management Coordinator staff, each local Prison Psychology Service will proactively engage with the following groups of people:
- 18 – 24 year olds who are committed to custody with a sentence of one year or more, without Post Release Supervision with the Probation Service;
- People committed to custody with a sentence of two years or more for a violent offence, without Post Release Supervision with the Probation Service;
- People convicted of sexual violence;
- People sentenced to life imprisonment.
In addition to working with Prison operational staff, the IPS Psychology Service work closely with other multi-disciplinary team members to facilitate cohesive and streamlined care for clients, including, but not limited to: Healthcare (GPs and Nursing Staff), In-reach Psychiatric Services (Consultant Psychiatrists, Registrars and Psychiatric Nurses), Chaplaincy, Addiction
Counselling Services, the Probation Service, Social Workers, Resettlement Officers and Training and Employment Officers.
Engagement with the Community
Psychologists often have close contact with the families and carers of those in custody, including engagement in systemically-informed interventions where appropriate. Psychologists have regular contact with community agencies involved in the support and resettlement of people leaving custody including GPs, HSE mental health services, addiction services, housing, homeless services, community Probation Officers, An Garda Síochána and various NGOs. Where clinically appropriate, Psychologists may provide time-limited community intervention(s) to support the transition of clients from custody to community.
Continual Professional Development
The IPS Psychology Service prides itself on its Continual Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for staff. Service training is provided throughout the year, with recent events including:
- Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT) (training and ongoing supervision with Prof. Anthony Bateman and Dr Anna Motz, Anna Freud Centre),
- Historical Clinical Risk – 20v3 (HCR-20v3; Prof. Kevin Douglas; Dr Caroline Logan)
- Spousal Assault Risk Assessment – II (SARA-II; Prof. Randy Kropp)
- Managing Boundaries in Forensic Mental Health (Prof. Gwen Adshead)
- Psychopathy Checklist -Revised (PCL-R) training, and
- Interventions with people convicted of sexual violence (Dr Liam Marshall).
Upcoming events include further MBT training, International Personality Disorder Examination (IPDE) training and a five-day Comprehensive Resource Model training. In addition to service-wide CPD, each member of qualified staff receive an annual CPD fund allocation to support personal development of organisational relevance.
The IPS Psychology Service adheres strictly to The Psychological Society of Ireland Supervision Guidelines for Psychologists (2017) and Guidelines for the Employment of Assistant Psychologists in Ireland (2014). The service is informed by the Seven-Eyed Model of Supervision (Hawkins & Shohet, 1985). Reflective practice is strongly emphasised, including the use of reflective logs by Assistant Psychologists. Individual supervisors are audited monthly to ensure adherence to PSI Guidelines.
University Links and Research
The IPS Psychology Service provides placements for Trainee Psychologists and regular teaching input to various Doctoral Trainee Psychologist University programmes.
The Service also has strong internal audit processes, ensuring ongoing review of clinical outcome measures, staff supervision, client access and adherence to service protocols. Psychologists and Assistant Psychologists are actively encouraged to engage in service evaluation and research projects. A review of Psychological Services Outcomes for 2020 can be viewed here.
Some publications and conference poster presentations include:
Moloney, C., Rice, A., Pellegrini, S. & O’Sullivan, M. (2018, July). Investigating the effectiveness of a brief comprehensive resource model group intervention on trauma symptomatology and alexithymia among individuals in custody. Paper presented at the Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conference, Dublin, Ireland.
Moloney, C., Rice, A., Pellegrini, S. & O’Sullivan, M. (2018, June). Investigating the effectiveness of a brief comprehensive resource model group intervention on trauma symptomatology and alexithymia among Individuals in custody. Poster presented at the Centre for Recovery and Social Inclusion Conference, Cork, Ireland.
O’Sullivan, D., O’Sullivan, M., O’Connell, B. D., O’Reilly, K. & Sarma, K. M (2018). Attributional style and depressive symptoms in a male prison sample. PLoS ONE, 13(2), 1 – 14. doi: https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190394
Rice, A., Pelligrini, S., Moloney, C., O’Sullivan, M. & Thomas, S. (2018, July). Implementing a brief CBT-informed intervention to address mental health issues among individuals in custody. Poster presented at the Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conference, Dublin, Ireland.
To ensure ongoing adherence to its ‘scientist practitioner’ status, the IPS Psychology Service is currently working closely with two Ph.D. students and their associated Universities (currently University College Dublin and University of Limerick). These students are researching work on the National Violence Reduction Unit, treatment outcomes for people convicted of sexual violence, and a joint Psychology / Probation Service initiative for people serving life sentences. This independent scrutiny of the work allows for real-time adjustments and improvements to be made based on the research evidence.
Some publications and conference poster presentations include:
Flynn, A. Spain, E. & Black, E. (2019, October). Managing life in prison: An exploration of the sentence management of people serving life sentences in the Irish prison service. Paper presented at the Psychological Society of Ireland Early Graduate Group Conference, Maynooth, Ireland.
Flynn, A., Spain, E. & Black, E. (2019, October). Managing life in prison: An exploration of the sentence management of people serving life sentences in the Irish prison service. Poster presented at the Psychological Society of Ireland Early Graduate Group Conference, Maynooth, Ireland.
Flynn, A., Spain, E. & Black, E. (2019, August). Managing life in prison: An exploration of the sentence management of people serving life sentences in the Irish prison service. Poster presented at the North South Ireland Criminology Conference, Cork, Ireland.
Flynn, A., Spain, E. & Black, E. (2019). Managing life in prison: An exploration of the sentence management of people serving life sentences in the Irish prison service. Poster presented at the British Psychological Society Division of Forensic Psychology Annual Conference, Liverpool, UK. In: Forensic Update, 131, 40. ISSN: 2050-7348 (Online).
Gallagher, O. (2019, October). Addressing serious violence and disruption in the Irish prison service: Exploring the experiences of prisoners and prison officers. Paper presented at the Psychological Society of Ireland Early Graduate Group Conference, Maynooth, Ireland.
Gallagher, O., O’ Reilly, G. & Black, E. (2019, June). Managing serious violence and disruption in the Irish prison service: Prisoner and prison officer experiences. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society Division of Forensic Psychology Annual Conference, Liverpool, UK.
Gallagher, O. (2019). Addressing serious violence in the Irish prison service: Exploring the experiences of prisoners and prison officers. The International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology Newsletter, 50 (4), 1 – 4.
Gallagher, O., O’ Reilly, G. & Black, E. (2019, May). Addressing serious violence and disruption in the Irish prison service: Exploring the experiences of prisoners and prison officers. Paper presented at the University College Dublin Graduate Research Student Symposium, Dublin, Ireland.
Gallagher, O., O’ Reilly, G. & Black, E. (2018, October). Violent and disruptive behaviour in the Irish prison service: An examination of current management. Paper presented at the International Corrections and Prisons Association Annual General Meeting and Conference, Montréal, Canada.
Gallagher, O., O’Reilly, G. & Regan, E. (2018, June). Violent and disruptive behaviour in the Irish prison service: An examination of current management. Poster presented at the British Psychological Society Division of Forensic Psychology Annual Conference, Newcastle, UK.
Gallagher, O. O’Reilly, G. & Regan, E. (2018, June). Managing violent and disruptive behaviour in the Irish prison service: A 4-year research project. Poster presented at the British Psychological Society Division of Forensic Psychology Annual Conference, Newcastle, UK.