Crisis intervention in a correctional setting

ACA summer session: Originally developed from law enforcement, CIT training can help prevent a mental health crisis at your facility


By Erin Hicks
CorrectionsOne Associate Editor

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) was initially developed by the Memphis Police Department to provide training for handling and preventing mental health crisis. However, soon those in corrections saw a need to arm officers with similar training, a session was told at the American Correctional Association’s conference in Kissimmee, Fla.

About 16 to 20 percent of those in prison are mentally ill, Kellie Meyer, President of Training Solutions told session attendees.

COs can benefit from specialized, intensive training to learn how to respond and have a higher ability to ward of crisis involving a person with mental illness before it even happens, Meyer said.

The typical CIT training program involves 40 hours of specialized training organized with the help of other stake holders in the community, like social workers, mental health professionals and officers who help put the training program together.

The training focus usually includes:
• Recognizing signs and symptoms of mental illness
• Understanding medications
• Understanding special populations (elderly, developmentally disabled, veterans, etc.)
• Connection with families and consumers
• Development of communication skills (active listening is central)
• De-escalation techniques/scenario based training

So what’s the point of participating in this training class? According to Dr. George Parker, Director of Forensic Psychiatry at Indiana University who developed a CIT training curriculum at Indiana SHU and compared incident reports before and after the training. Parker found the number of incidents by use of force by officers dropped from 148 to 81 9 months after the training. Also, assaults on officers using bodily waste decreased from 14 to 4 in that time span. The results were published in the journal Psychiatric Services in 2009.

Meyer said on average, researchers have found these results in male prisons where officers completed a CIT program:
• 70 percent decrease in "use of force"
• 50 percent decrease in "battery by bodily waste"
• Decrease in critical incidents
• Decrease in time in restraints

Craig Hanks, Deputy Superintendent at New Castle Correctional Facility said he saw a 70 percent initial reduction in the use of force at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Indiana, which is a high security unit. Here are a few training components that worked at his facility:

Incident mapping: Developed first in law enforcement, this procedure adapted to corrections is "an excellent vehicle for monitoring and documenting incidents in a facility which allows management and staff to adjust resources and focus on problem areas," said Hanks. Think of the data you collect as a scorecard for incidents by unit and shift. Management can focus energies around known problems before they have a chance to escalate.

Use of force review: High level management at the facility should review use of force procedures and make sure staff is trained and aware about the protocol.

Treatment team: "The team is the focal point for the development of strategy and documentation to improve and manage the offender’s behavior," said Hanks. The team should be clear on how risk, conflict, decision making and accountability is to be handled.

Hanks said don’t be afraid to reach out to the community for help in developing a CIT program that works for your facility. "Sometimes in corrections we don’t reach out for help from the community enough," he said.

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