Demystifying the ‘black box’ of prisoner re-entry and addressing the mental health and substance use needs and service disruptions for people released from custody during the COVID‑19 pandemic
People released from correctional facilities face significant mental health and addiction challenges, in addition to poverty, homelessness, poor physical health, and discrimination. The COVID‑19 pandemic has made community reentry, including access to mental health and substance use services, more difficult. Particularly affected are Indigenous, African, Caribbean, Black, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ persons, who are over-represented in the prison system. Leveraging recently collected data from a rapid COVID‑19 study that included in-depth qualitative interviews with service providers and people released from correctional facilities, a targeted survey of Ontario-wide service changes, and an Ontario-wide database of service disruptions/adaptations and helpline calls in the COVID‑19 service landscape, this project addresses the mental health and addictions needs and service disruptions for justice-involved persons during the pandemic. We will explore the wider impacts of COVID‑19 for their well-being and emergent coping strategies. In combination, these datasets enable us to identify effective models of mental health and addiction care for the current pandemic environment and for future emergencies. We will use GBA+ methodology combined with the Medicine Wheel framework to understand disparities that cut across gender/sexual identities, racial groups and Indigenous status. The study is a collaboration of researchers and community service providers and knowledge users who support people who face incarceration. Rapid knowledge generation and mobilization will ensure timely and targeted policy, practice, and care responses to ensure people who have incarceration histories are adequately supported. Findings will identify innovative adaptations within the mental health and addiction sectors that can inform the present and future pandemic plans, preparations, and responses to better address the needs of this population.