October 20, 2014
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A Palm Beach Post Commentary
By Secretary Michael Crews
Published October 20, 2014
To view the story online, visit: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/opinion/commentary-focus-on-mental-illness-among-prison-in/nhmK6/
At the Florida Department of Corrections, we are committed to meeting the needs of every inmate in our custody and will continue to reform our programs and services to meet these needs as our population evolves. One particular population which has seen growth for over a decade is that of our mentally ill inmates. While the total population of Florida’s inmates grew 57 percent between 1996 and 2013, the population of mentally ill inmates grew 153 percent. To address the challenge associated with caring for the growing population of mentally ill inmates, the department has implemented innovative programs and initiatives to ensure the well-being and successful re-entry of those with mental health conditions.
One such initiative is suicide prevention. Suicide is a leading concern in the care of mentally ill inmates. In advancing suicide prevention in corrections, the department has led the nation in the lowest suicide rate among the large prison systems in America.
The department takes every possible step to help inmates successfully re-enter our communities. Successful re-entry has made it possible for our state to achieve a historic, 43-year crime low and steadily declining recidivism rate. We must remember that re-entry can be a much greater challenge for those with mental health conditions. To this end, our staff has collaborated with the Florida Department of Children and Families to pioneer a web-based referral system that links inmates with mental illness with an appropriate community mental health provider prior to their release. This facilitates access to proper care and medication and allows for an easier transition into public life while contributing to a reduction in recidivism of mentally ill individuals.
We recognize the need for an innovative approach as we continue to address the ever-increasing needs of inmates with mental illness. That is why I recently announced that the department will appoint a mental health ombudsman, the first of its kind in the nation, who will be dedicated solely to inmates with severe mental illness.
Having staff with enhanced training is vital to our ability to provide security, supervision and care to inmates, which is why the department is in the process of expanding our crisis intervention training (CIT). CIT provides correctional officers with a working knowledge of mental illness, an understanding of the challenges faced by mentally ill inmates. It also provides officers with crisis intervention skills and de-escalation techniques. The corrections staff assigned to inpatient mental health units will also receive supplementary specialized training.
The department is also looking forward to a correctional behavioral health certification, made available through the American Correctional Association, which will provide a nationally standardized certification for our correctional officers associated with the care of mentally ill inmates. Through these initiatives, our staff will be able to perform their duties more effectively.
The success of our department depends on the ability to provide quality care and ensure the safety of all inmates, especially those with mental illness. We continue to work diligently toward that end and believe our recent reforms will make a positive difference.
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 22,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.