Mental Health in Prison: A Short Guide for Prison Staff

Although the purpose of prison was to rehabilitate criminals so that they could function in society better, unfortunately, that is not what happened in prisons for a long time. Ironically, prisoners who serve time are doing more than making sure they’re serving sentences. For them, life in prison means fighting for their survival while avoiding getting their time being extended. Most prisoners come to prison with pre-existing mental conditions with no previous help. 

The prison staff can play a significant role in helping the correctional facility help prevent their mental health from deteriorating further. The way prison staff treat prisoners can cause a considerable shift in a prisoner’s mental health. Prison staff can’t control the number of prisoners coming to prison. However, they can tackle issues that cause mental health issues to escalate. Although prison staff can’t diagnose and treat mental health issues, they can recognize signs and symptoms and intervene. Here’s how prison staff can help take care of prisoners to make sure they get the help they need: 

1. Identify Potential Warning Signs

Prison staff should be attentive if they notice any signs or symptoms that indicate the deteriorating mental health of any prisoner. These could be failed attempts at suicide or showing signs of leaning towards suicide. It could also be sudden mood swings and behavior changes. The training and development of prison staff are necessary throughout their careers to ensure they know the latest techniques and concepts relevant to their role. 

Besides, most federal officers complete 120 hours of special training within the first two months, followed by 200 hours of formal training within their first year of work. Luckily, online education and e-learning are cost-effective and time-efficient for correctional facilities. Enrolling in an online forensic psychology degree can help the prison staff pick and flag alarming situations and approach the cases quickly. 

Suppose correctional officers get a slight inkling that a prisoner may not be doing well. In that case, they need to communicate this information. These could be to the prison’s healthcare staff members. However, prison staff must not attempt to restrain or solitary confinement such prisoners. Let appropriate help find them. Prison staff members shouldn’t also punish prisoners for attempted suicidal attempts, making the situation worse. 

2. Be Alert To Risky Situations

There may be specific incidents where a prisoner may lash out or have a complete meltdown. If a prisoner is having an episode, prison staff need to intervene immediately. Causes of a mental breakdown can be anything such as pre-existing conditions such as depression. Maybe a prisoner has been through intense bullying throughout their prison life.

In any case, prison staff must make sure that the prisoner doesn’t end up hurting themselves or others. Isolating or restraining such prisoners may make their situation worse, so it’s best to keep other prisoners away. In prison, a staff member can attempt to communicate, but if that doesn’t work, they should send for help. 

The correctional officer should also file a report and try to get the prisoner long-term care. Prison staff can also help prisoners make it to their sessions safely and get permission to take their medicines with their meals.

3. Pay Attention to Specific Groups

Certain prisoners may be more prone to mental health issues than others. They may be subject to severe harassment and bullying. Some of them have mental health issues stemming from poor parenting and unstable domestic lives. These communities can include women, children, or foreign nationals. It also includes prisoners who are on death row or segregated from other prisoners. In such cases, prison staff can issue a report and ask for protection for vulnerable groups. Prison staff can communicate with these people and determine what kind of help they need and immediate care. 

4. Help Find Coping Mechanisms 

Unfortunately, in prison, prisoners don’t have enough liberty to find coping mechanisms. However, prison staff can help design activities and programs aimed to help prisoners. They can keep support groups where prisoners can sit with each other and talk about themselves. Isolation from people can cause their mental health situation to deteriorate. If some prisoners cope better with more physical exercises, try and appeal for more time to exercise. Prison staff can also ask the warden to get more counselors on board to help build a support system within prisons. 

5. Communicate With Them More

Prisoners are often in isolation and segregated from other prisoners. They are not allowed to communicate with each other and are supposed to bid their time in silence. It does more harm than good. Lack of socializing can cause prisoners to develop or accelerate their mental health issues. Prison staff can change this picture. 

They can adopt a more positive attitude while talking to prisoners with mental health issues. They can also make sure while they’re under supervision, they’re being treated fairly and not needlessly get picked on. Meaningful conversations can help prison staff understand better if a prisoner needs extensive help. Prison staff can also communicate with prison healthcare professionals and learn how to administer care after hours.

6. Help Improve Prison Environment

The conditions of prison can have a significant impact on the mental health of prisoners. Overcrowding, poor hygiene, and lack of ventilation make it difficult for prisoners to take care of themselves. It also doesn’t help that they have no privacy, especially when using the toilet or showering. Prison staff can help improve these conditions by arranging facilities that allow some modicum of privacy. Ask the government to increase prison funds to repair old buildings. Emphasize hygiene conditions such as within jail cells and in toilets. Provide prisoners with more cleaning products. Prison staff can also help prisoners have outdoor spaces such as prison grounds with no roof to let them breathe fresh air.

Wrap Up 

Prisoners coming to correctional facilities may have pre-existing or may develop mental health issues in the duration of their stay. If immediate action does not get implemented, chances are these prisoners may end up hurting themselves and others. The prison staff is responsible for making sure the prison environment stays in harmony. While they can’t administer long-term care, they can help with short-term intervention. They can keep an eye out for signs and symptoms and immediately intervene if necessary.