Improving mental health is key in prisoner rehabilitation. Nurses are part of the solution

SA Prison Health Service nurses are receiving specialist psychosocial training as part of a new research project to support the mental health needs of people in custody in rural South Australia.

Conducted in partnership with the University of South Australia, the trial hopes to show that specialised skills in an approach known as Behavioural Activation can help frontline nurses deliver evidenced-based mental health treatments within the correctional health system.

The trial is being conducted across four rural prison sites – Port Lincoln, Port Augusta, Mobilong (near Murray Bridge) and Cadell.

Andrew Wiley is Director, SA Prison Health Service at Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN).

“People in custody have high levels of mental health issues, and it is essential we have skilled staff that have received specialist education to better care for people in custody,” Andrew says.


“Behavioural Activation is an important tool for nursing staff to support those with mental health concerns.”


“Rehabilitation is a key objective of time spent in prison to help break the cycle of reoffending. Improving a person’s mental health while in prison supports their positive rehabilitation with the aim of a successful reintegration into the community on release.”


Filling a gap in the system

Mobilong Prison registered nurse, Jolene Murray, says the course is filling a much-needed gap in the system.

“I am very excited to be a part of the Behavioural Activation clinical trial and I believe that addressing high rates of depression within the prison population through psychosocial treatment, will not only have a positive effect on consumers, but also reduce reoffending,” Jolene says.

Her thoughts are echoed by Janice Scott, Associate Nurse Unit Manager at Port Augusta prison.

“This course has been a great resource for people in custody who have depression,” says Janice.


“Already, it has helped many of our patients to overcome their depression and gain employment in the prison.”


“But importantly, it has also helped them to communicate with their family on the outside.”

SA Prison Health Service is a directorate of CALHN, and works in partnership with the Department for Correctional Services to provide health services to adults in custody.

Health care services are provided within a predominantly primary care model which focuses on the provision of quality, contemporary and equitable health care across the spectrum of health needs. Health care is provided at all sites seven days a week.