Anna McLafferty was the criminal justice director at NAMI Minnesota in 2010 when she got a phone call from the state’s Department of Corrections.
The Minnesota DOC wanted to start crisis intervention training (CIT) for staff in state correctional facilities, so that security officers could better handle difficult situations involving inmates with mental health needs. Would McLafferty like to collaborate?
“I told them, yes, of course I would!” she recalled.
Five years later, McLafferty is employed by the Minnesota DOC as a project manager, and she spends a significant portion of her time overseeing the department’s CIT program.
“Our first step [in 2010] was to attend a National Institute of Corrections training on how to do CIT in a correctional setting,” she said. “We were always learning from law enforcement models, learning how to adapt to correctional facilities.”
CIT began as a way to help law enforcement better respond to calls involving people experiencing mental health crises. What does modifying CIT for the prison setting entail?
To start, McLafferty said, the DOC’s CIT trainers had to develop role-play scenarios representing situations that occur in prisons; the actors (who during trainings adopt roles as individuals experiencing mental-health crises) actually visited prisons and spoke to inmates and staff, as part of their preparation. The CIT curriculum was also modified “to reflect the treatment options available in Minnesota prisons, as opposed to hospitals and community-based treatment options, which would be the focus of law enforcement CIT,” McLafferty said.
But, she continued, the basic goal of prison-based CIT is the same as CIT in the community: “to give officers the skills to recognize when someone may be experiencing a mental health problem, verbally de-escalate a crisis or prevent escalation to begin with, and connect people to appropriate mental health resources.”
There is certainly a need for CIT in prison. In Minnesota, 25 percent of males and 65 percent of females in adult prisons are receiving mental health services, and the percentage of incarcerated people living with mental disorders is even larger. “People in prisons experience the same types of mental illnesses as people in the community,” McLafferty said, “but at a higher prevalence rate.”
Minnesota’s is the first prison system in the country to implement CIT statewide, with the goal of eventually having at least 25 percent of security staff on any given shift at each facility, be CIT-trained.
“At some facilities, we’re approaching that goal,” McLafferty noted. “And others will be there soon.”
Most of Minnesota DOC’s CIT-trained employees are security officers, but some education, health, and case management staff have also been trained. When a mental health crisis occurs, these staff are often crucial in communicating to the on-call psychologist what is happening.
“It used to be that any time there was a mental health crisis, the person would just be put on suicide watch, which is a pretty intrusive intervention,” McLafferty said. “Now staff can be more nuanced in their reactions, which is far better for everyone involved.”