Placement in restrictive housing is often an attempt to protect inmates, but it can have the opposite effect, particularly for those who suffer from mental illness. The problem is twofold: not only can solitary and restricted conditions exacerbate mental health conditions, the lack of access to treatment and programming further disrupts existing issues and can even create new ones.
Some suicides can’t be prevented, but it’s our responsibility to try. Jails today are facing lack of funding, lack of resources for treating substance abuse issues and mental illness, and myriad other challenges that make it difficult to meet every inmate’s needs, but when it comes to suicide prevention, we have to stay vigilant.
For decades, the primary way jails and prisons have attempted to mitigate this elevated risk and keep mentally ill inmates safe was to keep them separated from the general population. This makes sense: When vulnerable inmates aren’t exposed to potential predators, they’re substantially less likely to be victimized.
Jails were never supposed to be detox centers. They weren’t designed as treatment providers. As jails see more and more people suffering from substance abuse disorders walk through the door, we’re facing an uncomfortable reality: We weren’t supposed to, we weren’t designed to, and yet WE ARE a primary change agent in the fight against addiction in our country.
The opioid crisis has created an unmatched challenge in the history of correctional facilities, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Jails are uniquely positioned to step up and make a difference, and many are. As of January 2018, jails in 30 states provide MAT, and the number is climbing.4 As more jails find ways to stand up to opioids in their communities, it paves the way for others to follow.
Restrictive housing, when used effectively, can help jail staff maintain safety and protect vulnerable inmates. However, overuse of this tool has led to ongoing problems for jails throughout the country. Constant vigilance of restrictive housing procedures and practices is necessary.
One of the primary ways jails can limit their liability, accurately classify inmates, and efficiently handle an influx of inmates is by using pre-classification, also known as initial classification, housing.
One third of adults in prison are mentally ill. One quarter have a co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorder. Prison inmates are seven times more likely than others in their community to have a substance abuse disorder.
In this episode, Dr. Tim Brennan, leading criminologist and classification/assessment expert, takes decades of research and simplifies it into practical, actionable information that justice professionals can start using on-the-job immediately.
Let’s jump right to the bottom line: The key to effectively managing inmate behavior is classification. Past generations of jails relied on physical barriers to maintain safety. Inmates were expected to behave badly, and they did. The focus was on containment, not management.