Managing prisoners with mental health issues and addiction problems – A EULEX-organized workshop for Kosovo Correctional Service staff

22 October 2021

A EULEX-organized workshop on how to manage prisoners with mental health issues and addiction problems bringing together staff of the Kosovo Correctional Service (KCS) concluded on 21 October in Pristina. The three-day workshop equipped the KSC staff with knowledge on how to recognize prisoners with mental health issues and addiction problems, and familiarized them with practical tools to successfully manage such prisoners.

Acknowledging that managing prisoners with mental health issues and addiction problems is very challenging, the Chief of EULEX’s Correctional Unit, Ritva Vahakoski, stressed that EULEX has been advocating for a dedicated area within the KCS with adequate space for prisoners with mental health issues and addiction problems. “Given the surplus of beds in Kosovo prisons and detention centres, the creation of a dedicated space for prisoners with mental health issues will enable the KCS to treat these prisoners with special care and adequate attention,” Vahakoski said.

The Replacing Director of the KCS, Ali Gashi, encouraged the participants to make full use of the knowledge and practical skills acquired during the workshop: “There is a continuous need for education and training of the KCS staff because we face different type of challenges that need to be addressed. This tailored workshop is crucial for the KCS, especially for the prison staff who directly deal with such issues on daily basis.”

Thijs Biemans, trainer and adviser at the Education Institute of the Dutch Prison Service System, used universal training methods throughout the workshop, which are applicable everywhere in the world, such as motivational interviewing. “After the training, the KCS staff should be able to be more aware of how to engage prisoners to make them think about their own changes in life,” said Biemans, adding that more attention needs to be paid to prisoners with mental health issues because they face an increased risk of depression and other mental health challenges.

Since February 2020, EULEX correctional advisors have delivered 16 tailored workshops of this kind, training more than 200 KCS officers and seven staff members of Kosovo’s Ombudsperson Institution. In December 2020, EULEX also organized an online workshop for ten officials of the Prisoners’ Assessment and Classification Unit of the KCS on two screening tools assessing alcohol and drug use, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the Drug Use Disorders Identification Test (DUDIT).