It is estimated that approximately half of the American inmates suffer from some kind of mental disorder. A considerable number of mentally ill inmates reveals the need for proper training of the staff of correctional facilities. This paper includes a brief description of aspects that should be included in the training of the staff, as well as a brief discussion of some of the most common mental health issues among inmates and ways to respond to them. It is stressed that extensive training can help correctional officers address various challenges associated with mental illness in inmates. This training should include the discussion of the nature of mental disorders, symptoms of the most common mental illnesses, ways to address them, and effective communication patterns used with mentally ill prisoners. It can also be effective to initiate a wide debate concerning the issue to increase people’s awareness and improve their trust in the correctional system.
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It has been estimated that the number of mentally ill inmates is on the rise, and 45% of federal inmates and over 60% of jail inmates suffer from some mental disorders (Sarteschi, 2013). Researchers and correctional facilities employees note that such inmates may harm themselves and cause significant disturbances in the prison or jail (American Psychiatric Association, 2015). Therefore, it is clear that the staff of correctional facilities should be trained to identify potential threats and symptoms, as well as be able to approach such inmates.
Identifying a Potentially Mentally Ill Inmate from One that Is Acting out
First, it is necessary to state that effective training can help correctional officers to identify potentially mentally ill person from the one who is faking certain conditions. The cases when inmates try to fake a mental disorder are quite common as mentally ill inmates are treated differently, especially when it comes to violent or abnormal behaviors (Galanek, 2015). In many cases, only a trained psychiatrist can identify real symptoms from faked ones.
However, in many cases, correctional officers can also effectively reveal faked symptoms. For example, those who try to pretend they are mentally ill are not aware of actual symptoms of some disorders and often fake only one symptom while acting normally in other respects. Hence, correctional officers should understand major symptoms of the most common mental disorders and identify whether the symptoms displayed by an inmate are associated with a particular disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2015). It is also beneficial to have information concerning inmates’ mental health issues (for example, cases of institutionalization).
Inmates suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, and Bipolar Disorder
To review some symptoms as well as ways to respond to them, it is possible to briefly analyze some of the common disorders that include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. PTSD can develop after significant stress (sexual abuse, loss of a close one, and the like) (Whitbourne & Halgin, 2012). The most common symptoms of this disorder include bad flashbacks (for example, racing heart), bad dreams, avoiding thoughts about the traumatic event and anything associated with it, keeping away from places, people associated with the traumatic event, sleeping disorders, angry outbursts, memory issues (associated with the traumatic event), the feeling of guilt, and so on.
As far as bipolar disorder is concerned, researchers cannot name a particular cause of this health issue. It is agreed that such risk factors as family history and peculiarities of brain functioning may lead to the development of this mental issue. The major symptoms of bipolar disorder include experiences of intense emotions, unusual behaviors, and sleep disorders (Whitbourne & Halgin, 2012). Therefore, a person suffering from this disorder may have a lot of energy, or have decreased activity levels, feel elated or hopeless and down, be irritable, feel tired or very active, think about suicide or enjoy life, behave in a risky and irresponsible way, etc.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental issue that shapes the way the ill person behaves, thinks, or feels. It can be caused by genetics, environment, or certain brain structure. Some of the common symptoms of this disorder are delusions, hallucinations, movement, and thought disorders, reduced speaking, trouble paying attention, memory issues, and so on.
It is possible to consider ways to approach an inmate exhibiting symptoms of PTSD to understand that training can help correctional officers complete their daily tasks more effectively. One of the most important things to remember that PTSD is associated with certain traumatic events. Correctional officers should try to make sure that they do not display behaviors or have any objects associated with the event. It is also important to make sure the environment is not associated with the traumatic event (though it can be difficult in case the traumatic event took place in prison) (Gosein, Stiffler, Frascoia, & Ford, 2015). The correctional officer can try to remind the inmate of some anger management strategies or train them. It is essential to reveal empathy and make the incarcerated person feel as safe as possible. It is also beneficial to discuss (with the inmate) various ways to identify the reason for certain symptoms and methods to address them.
Training for Correctional Officers
It has been widely acknowledged that although the number of mentally ill prisoners is significant, prison and jail personnel lack the necessary knowledge and skills associated with mental illness. At that, this knowledge is beneficial for and highly valued by inmates suffering from a mental disorder (Galanek, 2015). Mulvey and Schubert (2017) identify several areas where training can be necessary. For instance, correctional officers should have at least basic knowledge of the most common mental disorders found among prisoners. The training should include the discussion of symptoms and causes of these disorders as well as their possible triggers. Clearly, the prison and jail staff should be prepared to respond to challenges associated with mental disorders in inmates.
Prison and jail personnel should know ways to behave when inmates are acting out. At that, it is crucial to train correctional officers to develop proper behavioral models with inmates diagnosed with a mental illness (Galanek, 2015). The personnel should exhibit (reasonable) empathy and support to help prisoners maintain their mental health. Finally, it can be reasonable to start a wide discussion of the training provided as it could improve the public’s attitude towards the system. Clearly, many people (including inmates, their close ones, and so on) often have outdated information on the matter, which results in various misunderstandings between communities and representatives of the correctional system.
On balance, it is necessary to note that the US correctional system has to undergo certain changes regarding the provision of services to mentally ill inmates. The number of such prisoners is significant and is still increasing, while correctional officers’ preparedness is still insufficient. Prison and jail officers should receive the training that touches upon such aspects as mental illness nature, peculiarities and symptoms of the most common disorders, and methods to address them. Correctional officers should also be trained to develop proper communication patterns with inmates diagnosed with mental disorders. Therefore, the corresponding policies should be developed, and the necessary funds should be allocated to address these improvements in the correctional system. It can also be important to raise the overall public’s awareness of the matter as it can improve people’s trust in the system.
American Psychiatric Association. (2015). Psychiatric services in correctional facilities (3rd ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Pub.
Galanek, J. (2015). Correctional officers and the incarcerated mentally ill: Responses to psychiatric illness in prison. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 29(1), 116-136.
Gosein, V., Stiffler, J., Frascoia, A., & Ford, E. (2015). Life stressors and posttraumatic stress disorder in a seriously mentally ill jail population. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 61(1), 116-121.
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Mulvey, E., & Schubert, C. (2017). Mentally ill individuals in jails and prisons. Crime and Justice, 46(1), 231-277.
Sarteschi, C. M. (2013). Mentally ill offenders involved with the U.S. criminal justice system. SAGE Open, 3(3), 1-11.
Whitbourne, S. K., & Halgin, R. (2012). Abnormal psychology (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.