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Collaboration Between Clinicians & Custody Staff Benefits the Entire Prison

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 66 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2004 Pages: 116-119
Sherry Macpherson
Date Published
April 2004
4 pages
This article outlines the type of training that clinicians should provide correctional officers to prepare them to identify the warning signs that an inmate needs mental health services in order to prevent a management crisis.
Clinicians typically become involved with inmates during assessment, periodic treatment, and crisis situations. They are not positioned in the prison to observe early warning signs of mental and emotional deterioration. Precursors to a mental breakdown are usually first observed by correctional officers who interact daily with inmates. In order to identify inmates who may develop mental disorders after entering prison or who may have already been diagnosed and are in need of immediate intervention, correctional officers must be trained to identify warning signs of mental health problems in inmates. Effective training requires that the clinician instructor provide examples of how inmates with various diagnoses of mental disorders may eat, sleep, work, and socialize with others in an institutional setting. A lecture should begin with the general concept of labeling abnormal versus normal behavior and end with delineating custody staff's role in treatment issues. It should cross-reference the topics generally addressed in a classroom lecture on mental health disorders with applications to a correctional setting with which the correctional officers are familiar. Once the lecture is presented and questions are answered, the trainer can present the "cellmate match" task, which aims at making the connection between the psychological concepts presented and an actual application to the prison setting. The focus of the exercise is to extract the information given in the lecture and apply it to a housing unit. In this exercise, custody staff are provided with profiles of inmates with mental health problems, and they are asked to match cellmates (also profiled) for a two-person cell with inmates already on the housing unit. Once the cellmate match is completed, the trainees are asked to assign each of the special need/mental health inmates to institutional jobs from a list. This gives the trainees an opportunity to apply the information from the lecture to the daily tasks of a correctional officer. The benefits of applying clinical information to the prison setting should be emphasized, along with the need for open lines of communication between custody staff and clinicians. 2 tables