It has become a cliché to say that the jail and prison systems in the United States have become the largest mental health facilities in the country. Mental illness runs rampant throughout correction facilities, and frequently county jails become dumping grounds for those with mental illness. Most jailers don't have the appropriate training to handle inmates with mental illness, and this can result in tragic consequences. Texas has initiated a mental health training program that can hopefully give jailers better tools for dealing with the unique challenges presented by inmates with mental illness.
At the Brazos County Detention Center, jailers from four Texas counties underwent training on techniques for dealing with inmates who have mental disabilities. Master trainers from the Sheriff’s Office, along with a case manager from the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority (MHMR) helped to conduct the training which had been developed by the National Institute of Corrections and the Correctional Management Institute of Texas.
During the training, actors were used to help demonstrate the situations jailers may encounter with a prisoner with mental illness. In one instance an “inmate” told the jailer that he wanted to be moved to a different cell because the loud sounds of the slamming doors were hard for him to deal with. The jailer spoke calmly to the “inmate” and quickly determined that the “inmate” was a military veteran suffering from PTSD. The jailer was then taught techniques on how to be empathetic and helpful to the “inmate” rather than dismissive.
The officers undergoing these training sessions hope to become certified for serving on jail crisis intervention teams. Brazos County’s jail currently has two or three crisis trained deputies on every shift to help handle escalated situations often involving inmates with mental disabilities. These crisis intervention teams meet once a week to discuss the special needs of the inmates and those who have mental health and behavioral issues.
While Brazos County has made real strides towards training their jailers on how to address the needs of mentally disabled inmates, the program is not widespread enough. Jails across the country need to provide comprehensive training to their officers on how to handle crisis situations and the special needs of these inmates.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illness or intellectual/developmental disability. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.
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