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W.Va. begins crisis intervention training for prisons, jails


April 12, 2017

W.Va. begins crisis intervention training for prisons, jails


CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Crisis intervention teams will soon focus on safely defusing and de-escalating incidents involving West Virginia inmates with mental illness, aided by a training grant awarded to the Division of Corrections.

 DOC successfully applied for the technical assistance grant from the National Institute of Corrections last year. Through it, an initial class of correctional officers will receive 40 hours of intensive training adapted from the Memphis Model for crisis intervention.

 The state’s prison system is also providing mental health first aid training, developed by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, for all correctional officers and facility staff. This training will complement the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) approach, and began in March. The initial CIT training is scheduled for May.

 “The Division of Corrections is pleased to be taking the initiative to implement best practices in conjunction with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill that will provide correctional employees with the skills to successfully defuse situations involving mentally ill or emotionally disturbed persons,” said Acting Corrections Commissioner Loita Butcher. “We believe that this initiative will result in a safer environment for our employees and the inmates in our custody.”

 The Memphis Police Department, mental health professionals and advocates, and university researchers developed the crisis intervention model. Thousands of law enforcement agencies around the country rely on its approach and specialized training to assist individuals with mental illness during a crisis event in a way that decreases the chance for violence or injury.

 DOC officials learned of the model, as modified for correctional settings, while receiving best-practices training on a related topic: the appropriate use of restricted housing, which includes solitary confinement.

 “We are in ongoing conversations with experts and peers across the nation looking for the best, current thinking and practices on a variety of issues related to the issue of restrictive housing,” said Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Coleman. “The safe resolution of incidents involving inmates with some type of mental crisis or emotional disturbance is an area of emphasis for the team that is leading this initiative. Our goal is to provide a safer way to resolve these incidents for everyone involved.”

 The CIT training class will include correctional officers with the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, which like DOC is part of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

 The first aid training emphasizes recognizing signs and symptoms of mental illness, and aims to help staff avoid escalating potential crisis situations. Everyone assigned to a DOC facility will receive this training if their duties bring them into direct daily contact with inmates.

 “These training initiatives advance the core mission of enhancing public safety by providing safe, secure, and humane correctional facilities,” said Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy. “I applaud our Division of Corrections for recognizing the need and then pursuing and implementing programs to meet that challenge.”

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LAWRENCE MESSINA (304) 558-2930 Lawrence.C.Messina@wv.gov