prisonerOffenders with mental illness should be more involved in how assessments about the risks they pose and the treatment they receive are drawn up, according to a new policy briefing.

The briefing, from the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research, argues that offenders with a range of mental disorders are often unaware of the content and reasoning behind their assessments, contrary to current guidance.

Drawing on research conducted between March 2009 and September 2011 across three mental health trusts, the briefing’s author, Dr Jeremy Dixon, suggests that by involving offenders more in the process of compiling assessments about their condition, practitioners can help them to understand and manage their risks more effectively.

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Current guidance encourages mental health professionals to adopt a range of approaches when measuring and managing risk. This research looked specifically at the ways in which offenders subject to Section 41 of the Mental Health Act 1983 understood their own risk assessment and management plans.

The findings suggest that mentally ill offenders should be asked about their views of their risks when they are first assessed and that they are helped to draw up their own assessment at a point at which their mental health is stable.

In addition, it recommends that staff and offender assessments of risk are incorporated into one document and that the rationale behind a risk assessment is explained to offenders.

“Mentally disordered offenders who are seen to pose a potential risk to others have their risks assessed and monitored by mental health professionals on a regular basis,” Dixon said.

“However, offenders often remain confused about what risks their care teams have identified and what processes are in place to manage them. The research shows that existing guidance should be implemented more carefully to enable offenders to identify and manage their own risks.”