Human Services in Correctional Institutions


Incarcerated individuals or persons with pending criminal charges have unique needs. Nelson Mandela is credited with stating that the manner in which society treats its prisoners is a sharp reflection of its character (Penal Reform International, 2019). Incarcerated individuals require health services, behavior change interventions, education, and vocational training. However, the provision of services in correctional institutions is marred by a variety of challenges. These include overcrowding, inadequate rehabilitation programs, insufficient staff, racial discrimination, and gender inequality. The aforementioned challenges often lead t unethical practices that affect prisoners’ mental and physical wellbeing. Instituting measures designed to effectively address the challenges faced in prisons is critical to the maintenance of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Incarcerated Clients’ Needs

Mental and Physical Health

It is vital to note that incarcerated individuals often live in socioeconomically challenged environments. A majority of these individuals seldom seek healthcare services, and they often engage in unhealthy practices. As a result, prisoners often tend to have poorer health when compared to the general population. Some of the issues that are prevalent among these individuals include mental illness, dental problems, substance abuse, and communicable illnesses (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2018). In some instances, incarcerated individuals are already undergoing treatments for specific illnesses. It is critical to guarantee the continuity of care while in prison.

International rules and guidelines outline the principles that govern the provision of healthcare services to prisoners. For instance, rule 24 of the Nelson Mandela Rules stipulates that the State is responsible for the provision of healthcare services to prisoners, and the level of care must be equal to that of other members of the community (UNODC, 2018). The rules also stipulate that prisons must ensure the continuity of care for individuals suffering from various ailments. It is vital to note that access to the services of a qualified attorney is essential for the psychological wellbeing of incarcerated individuals. It is important to ensure that they are accorded the opportunity to defend themselves regardless of the nature of the crime committed. Ensuring prisoners remain healthy is vital in view of the fact that it promotes successful reintegration into the community.

Behavior Change

Criminal activity is often the result of unacceptable behavior or attitudes. It is critical to ensure that offenders are motivated to alter specific cognitive processes, gain access to good role models and address emotional challenges. Distorted cognition often presents as the misinterpretation of social cues, insufficient moral reasoning, and schemas of entitlement (UNODC, 2018). Affected individuals need access to cognitive behavioral therapy sessions to help teach them how to modulate their thought processes and avoid criminal behavior. Anger management sessions are vital for violent offenders who have difficulty controlling their responses to various scenarios.

Individuals afflicted by substance abuse disorders need access to relapse prevention therapy. The program teaches individuals the coping mechanisms they need to change their addictive behaviors. It is important to teach incarcerated individuals basic relationship and life skills. This is essential because offenders seldom have control over their daily activities and are forced to conform to restrictive prison environments. They often experience self-insufficiency, reduced independence, and low self-esteem. The skills they acquire while incarcerated are vital for reintegration into society.

Education and Vocational Training

An offender’s return to society is particularly challenging if they have poor education. It is worth noting that training and education significantly reduce the social cost of crime (UNODC, 2018). Providing prisoners with opportunities to further their education is vital because it allows access to the job market. Education programs equip offenders with the numeracy and literacy skills they need to earn a living once released. Employment allows released offenders to secure housing, gain financial stability and gain the confidence necessary to support their families. Proving offenders with the opportunities to gain meaningful vocational training is essential because the absence of skills makes social reintegration difficult.

Challenges Faced When Providing Services

Human services providers face a variety of challenges when working with incarcerated clients. It is vital to note that these individuals provide an important public service that is commonly subjected to negative stereotyping (Penal Reform International, 2019). These individuals are instrumental in the rehabilitation of offenders. The multifaceted and complex nature of their work requires that they develop the skills necessary for offering services in an extremely challenging environment. Many human service providers risk their physical and mental wellbeing when they work with dangerous offenders. It is often the case that members of staff are assaulted or are the victims of violent prison brawls.

Exposure to toxic and psychoactive substances is a challenge for most human service providers. Members of staff in the U.S. have been exposed to chemicals such as synthetic cannabis when responding to emergencies in prisons (Penal Reform International, 2019). It is vital to note that female workers in the prison environment are a minority, and they are often subjected to harassment from incarcerated individuals as well as colleagues. Corruption in the prison environment is a barrier to the delivery of essential services. For instance, the exchange of privileges for sexual favors is a challenge in many U.S. correctional facilities (Penal Reform International, 2019). In addition, the smuggling of contraband worsens drug addiction and leads to violence between inmates. This negatively impacts the efforts to teach incarcerated individuals the techniques required to control substance abuse and manage violent behavior. Some of the reasons corruption is thought to be prevalent include overcrowding, the excessive use of force, and the existence of inappropriate relationships within the justice system.

A majority of human service providers within the corrections department suffer from poor morale. Issues such as poor staffing and inadequate remuneration contribute to mental and physical fatigue. As a result, individuals often develop a negative outlook when working with prisoners. In addition, some individuals find it difficult to deal with the intimidation and violence that characterizes correctional facilities. The lack of adequate support systems that guarantee safety and proper compensation in the event of a work-related accident dissuades many professionals from actively engaging with prisoners. The high turnover rate seen in many institutions has resulted in staff shortages which make conditions challenging for the existing staff.

Ethical Issues

The ability to commit to a client’s needs is a basic principle in all helping professions. Professional responsibility to the client guides ethical decision-making and forms the foundation for all other professional principles (Winters, 2019). It is essential to offer services with the client’s best interests in mind. It is vital to ensure that they are not subjected to harm at any point of the interaction. Therefore, it is essential to maintain the client’s dignity, wellbeing, strength, and worth. The most prevalent ethical issues experienced in correctional facilities are barriers to privacy and the right to refuse or consent to care. The provider-patient relationship is often interfered with in prisons because the setting does not facilitate privacy, and there is often no room for confidentiality. In addition, the right to refuse or consent to care is often compromised. It is extremely difficult to maintain privacy, and confidential health information is easily divulged through intrusive cell searchers and scheduled visits. The ability to maintain confidentiality is further complicated by policies that stipulate that information that may be linked to the community’s safety is divulged to correctional officials.

It is vital to note that denying prisoners access to essential services is unethical. For instance, some prisoners are denied health services owing to the ballooning prison population and the scarcity of resources. In addition, prisoners have limited access to the programs they need to facilitate successful reintegration into the community. In some instances, prisoners are denied opportunities as a result of racial, religious, or gender discrimination. Incarcerated individuals are sometimes unlawfully detained in solitary confinement, while others are denied visitation rights. Lack of human contact or extended periods without contact with family or friends causes serious mental health issues. It is critical to ensure that ethical practice is mandated in correctional facilities to maintain the inmates’ physical and mental wellbeing.

Addressing the Challenges

It is critical to establish internal and external controls in order to effectively address the ethical challenges that plague correctional facilities. It is vital to note that a majority of law enforcement institutions have specific values, ethical standards, and concepts aimed at ensuring ethical practice prevails (Azemi, 2019). In addition, external controls such as political accountability play a vital role in ensuring that correctional facilities operate within the parameters outlined by law. It is essential to ensure that discipline, acceptable professional conduct, and moral standards are maintained in prisons. In addition, training programs designed to educate staff on the importance of ethical practice are necessary (Azemi, 2019). Collaboration between administrators and the institution’s staff is a useful way of addressing various challenges encountered in the work environment. The implementation of evidence-based guidelines which effectively address employee as well as prisoner needs is critical. This will ensure that the personnel is freed from mental and physical exhaustion while the incarcerated individuals are adequately prepared for reintegration into society. Finally, creating a culture where ethical practices are prioritized will ensure prisoner rights are not violated.


The provision of human services in correctional institutions is an important responsibility. Incarcerated individuals or persons with pending criminal charges have unique needs. These include health, educational and vocational needs which are essential for the maintenance of their mental and physical wellbeing. Human service providers face a variety of challenges when working with prisoners. For instance, they work in dangerous environments, are often overworked, and seldom get adequately remunerated for their services. The aforementioned challenges contribute to the prevalence of unethical practices in prisons. For instance, incarcerated individuals are rarely accorded privacy and confidentiality. It is essential to institute internal and external controls that mandate ethical practice in correctional facilities. It is vital to ensure that the proposed policies prioritize the protection of prisoner rights and freedoms.


Azemi, F. (2019). Ethical and social justice issues : The case of correctional institutions. Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, 22(4), 1–10. Web.

Penal Reform International. Global prison trends 2019. Web.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2018). Introductory handbook on the prevention of recidivism and the social reintegration of offenders. United Nations. Web.

Winters, A. (2019). The ethical conflicts of working in solitary confinement. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 16(2), 18–27. Web.

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LawBirdie. "Human Services in Correctional Institutions." April 7, 2023.