To read this content please select one of the options below:

Improving collaboration between professionals supporting mentally ill offenders

Sarah Hean (University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway) (Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK)
Atle Ødegård (University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway) (Molde University College, Molde, Norway)
Elisabeth Willumsen (University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway) (Molde University College, Molde, Norway)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




Interprofessional collaboration is necessary when supporting mentally ill offenders but little is understood of these interactions. The purpose of this paper is to explore prison officers’ perceptions of current and desirable levels of interprofessional collaboration (relational coordination (RC)) to understand how collaboration between these systems can be improved.


Gittell’s RC scale was administered to prison officers within the Norwegian prison system (n=160) using an adaptation of the instrument in which actual and desired levels of RC are evaluated. This differentiates between prison officers’ expectations of optimum levels of collaboration with other professional groups, dependent on the role function and codependence, vs actual levels of collaboration.


Prison officers reported different RC levels across professional groups, the lowest being with specialist mental health staff and prison doctors and highest with nurses, social workers and other prison officers. Significant differences between desired and actual RC levels suggest expertise of primary care staff is insufficient, as prison officers request much greater contact with mental health specialists when dealing with the mentally ill offender.


The paper contributes to limited literature on collaborative practice between prison and health care professionals. It questions the advisability of enforcing care pathways that promote the lowest level of effective care in the prison system and suggest ways in which mental health specialists might be better integrated into the prison system. It contributes to the continued debate on how mental health services should be integrated into the prison system, suggesting that the current import model used in Norway and other countries, may not be conducive to generating the close professional relationships required between mental health and prison staff.



The authors acknowledge the extensive contribution of professionals in the Norwegian correctional and specialised mental health services to this study. The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of this paper.

Funding: this study is funded by the EU Commissions FP7 Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship funding scheme (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IEF 628010) (2014-2016).


Hean, S., Ødegård, A. and Willumsen, E. (2017), "Improving collaboration between professionals supporting mentally ill offenders", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 91-104.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles