HARRISBURG, Pa., May 2, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced that 1,000 prison staff members have received Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training aimed at improving response to inmates with mental health needs.
"We have made significant improvements to our mental health services and key to all of the services being successful is how our employees respond to a mental health crisis at the onset," Secretary Wetzel said. "We need to be able to respond quickly and appropriately when a mental health crisis happens. Doing so helps to ensure proper care de-escalates a situation so that potential violence and harm to inmates or prison staff is averted."
All 26 state prison superintendents finished their training last week.
One quarter of all inmates in Pennsylvania prisons suffer from mental illness, while eight percent of those have severe forms of mental illness.
"Twenty thousand people leave our prisons every year and we want them to return to their communities healthier than when they arrived," said Wetzel. "Increasing the level of staff training on mental health issues is one important step toward achieving that goal."
The training program is part of a system-wide initiative to place an inmate's mental health at the forefront of treatment in prison. Ninety-percent of inmates in the state system are eventually released and the DOC goal is that they return to the community prepared to be productive citizens.
"Crisis Intervention Training involves a long-term commitment by an agency, because it is not only a vital training, it is a change in culture," said Superintendent Marirosa Lamas, the department's executive leading and managing this special training initiative. "If you are going to do something right, you must also change your culture to embrace the change, and that is what we are doing through this training."
The U.S. Department of Justice recently closed an investigation into the DOC citing significant improvements made to policies and practices intended to protect prisoners with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities from the harmful effects solitary confinement.
The federal department opened its statewide investigation into the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities in May 2013 after finding a pattern of constitutional violations and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Justice Department said in closing the investigation this month that the DOC demonstrated its commitment to reforming its use of solitary confinement by working closely with the department and beginning improvements at the outset of the investigation. Since then, the DOC has worked to ensure that prisoners with serious mental illness and/or intellectual disabilities are no longer subjected to solitary confinement and are instead provided with specialized treatment to meet their individual needs.
CIT training, first used to educate police officers to better respond to mental health issues they encounter in the community, was modified by the DOC to encompass an extensive multi-day training course that provides correctional employees with an understanding of the ways in which mental illness may affect the inmates they deal with every day. It also provides employees with skills to de-escalate crisis situations.
Training is not limited to corrections officers. Other staff members and volunteers with inmate contact in a wide array of areas also receive training, including counselors, food service workers, chaplains, parole agents, social workers, teachers, as well as employees with community corrections centers and county prison systems.
"All new employees who require this training will receive it," Wetzel said. "We are committed to ensuring that our employees have the skills and tools necessary to successfully fulfill their duties."
All DOC employees, contractors and volunteers receive training in basic Mental Health First Aid in order to better understand, recognize and respond to the symptoms of mental illness.
Media contact: Susan McNaughton, 717-728-4025
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Corrections