Purpose - Community day leaves are one aspect of the rehabilitation offered at a secure forensic mental health facility in Australia. This study aimed to investigate staff and patients understanding of community day leaves and how recovery principles were embedded. Design/methodology/approach - Ten escorted community day leaves were observed and 21 semi-structured interviews with staff and patients were conducted. Using an ethnographic research approach, thematic analysis guided by a comparative method was used to reveal the similarities and differences between staff and patient perspectives of escorted leaves and how principles of recovery were practiced. Findings - Although staff and patients expressed their understanding differently, they had a similar overall understanding of the function of community day leaves, that being, to successfully reintegrate and practice daily living skills. Recovery principles practiced included developing a sense of connectedness to others, power over their own lives, the roles they value, and therefore, hope for themselves. However, how these were facilitated by staff and practiced by patients, varied. Practical implications - Community day leaves can have the potential therapeutic benefits of enhancing or hindering recovery due to the staff member s facilitation. This study revealed how important it is for staff members to utilise recovery principles to enhance rehabilitation goals and therapeutic benefits. Originality/value - This study has identified that community day leaves need to be shaped by recovery principles, leading towards successful community integration and goals and objectives need to be agreed upon by both staff and patients.