Assessing mental health and substance use needs and service disruptions for people released from custody during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Even at the best of times, people who are released from correctional facilities face significant mental health and addiction challenges, in addition to poverty, homelessness, poor physical health, and discrimination as they return to the community. The COVID‑19 pandemic has made the community reentry process, including access to mental health and substance use services, more difficult for releasees. Particularly affected are Indigenous, Black and 2SLGBTQ persons, who are over-represented in the prison system. Through qualitative interviews this study will examine the mental health and substance use challenges of community reentry for people released from custody during the pandemic. Within the Greater Toronto Area, we will explore how this population is adapting to disruptions to mental health and addiction services and how service agencies are adapting their practices to support the population despite physical distancing and other public health safety measures. We propose a rapid 3-cycle evaluation of service disruptions/adaptations and releasees needs and responses to service changes followed by in-depth qualitative analysis. The study is a collaboration of researchers and community service providers and knowledge users who support people who face incarceration. The findings will inform government responses to pandemics to ensure people who have incarceration histories are adequately supported. In addition, the findings will document 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.