Washington State correctional facilities, like many other state correctional facilities, conducts screening tests for inmates to determine if they have a possible serious illness before assigning them to a cell. The logic behind the testing is to lower the possibility of violence within the facility; many violent acts that occur in facilities across the country occur because of a misunderstanding between a mentally ill inmate and a mentally healthy inmate. If the screening test shows that the inmate might have a possible serious mental illness, they are then interviewed by psychologists or psychiatrists for added validation in order to correctly identify their illness (Cloyes, 2007).
However, the major problem with this method is that screening is not always completed correctly and many inmates with serious mental illness end up integrated into the general prison population. This poses serious problems not only for the person with the mental illness, but for those who live in the area around them. The inmate with the serious mental illness is unable to compete in the rough prison culture and does not have the same coping skills as other inmates, thereby placing them in a situation they are unable to comprehend their surroundings (Cloyes, 2007).
The state of Washington adopted a new program in order to re-evaluate how inmates are deemed to have a serious mental illness and how to best treat them within the prison facility. The initial goal of the program was to stabilize mental health symptoms, develop coping strategies, and create social and living skills with the goal of re-integrating inmates identified as mentally ill to the rest of the prison. Unfortunately, their new system caused more problems than it has treated. By placing the the mental health unit in the same building as the maximum security unit in all Washington State correctional facilities, the mental health unit became stigmatized (Cloyes, 2007).
Many prisoners from the maximum security unit began using the mental health unit as a way to integrate back into the rest of the correctional facility. While maximum security prisoners did need help integrating back into the correctional facility’s mainstream inmates, they began to use the resources that were meant to be provided for those with serious mental illnesses. Overall, many of the intended resources for those who entered prison with a serious mental illness went to treat those who were moving out of the maximum security unit instead of their intended population (Cloyes, 2007).
Cloyes, K. G. (2007). Challenges in residential treatment for prisoners with mental illness: A follow-up report. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 21, 192-200.
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