Insights Into Working With Mentally Ill Offenders in Corrections

Source: Peter Coffey, Corrections Today, Vol. 74 no. 2, April/May 2012

City, county, state and federal correctional facilities are currently some of the largest providers of psychiatric and substance abuse services in the nation. Their services focus on the incarceration and rehabilitation of people who commit criminal acts. Treatment services are geared toward reducing criminal thinking, thus returning a person into society who will not be a threat to the community. Essentially, the goal is to return someone to the community where he or she will potentially be a good neighbor or at the least a low-risk neighbor.

The correctional facilities that exist nationwide were never designed to be long-term behavioral health facilities. Staff were not trained and processes were not put into place, yet this has increasingly become the role of the facilities. The inmate population has an ever-increasing number of inmates with psychiatric diagnoses, substance dependency diagnoses and dual diagnoses. Correctional facilities struggle more and more with the day-to-day management of this population and thus have little ability to focus on treatment needs. this is not a fault of correctional facilities; this is a reality of the changing face of the population that is served. To understand what needs to be done to successfully work with mentally ill inmates within facilities and have them successfully reintegrate back into the community required an understanding of how things have arrived at this point. The questions that arise are:
– What is the extent of the problem?
– How did this occur?
– What needs to be done so that inmates with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues are safely reintegrated back into the greater community.

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