A cell (left) and recreation area (right) in the Intensive Management Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County (Photo: Office of the Ombudsman for Corrections)

By Paul Kiefer

A new report from the Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO) in Washington raises concerns about the consequences of a shortage of mental health personnel and treatment options in the state’s prison system, including the risk increased suicide, self-harm or isolation. for inmates with unmet mental health needs.

The report, which the OCO released on Wednesday, is based on a review of around 335 complaints about alleged deficiencies in the management of mental health care by the State Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as interviews with inmates and DOC staff and administrators. .

In its review of mental health care options in state prisons, the OCO found that many issues depended on the dearth of treatment providers available for the roughly 15,000 people detained by DOC. Faced with an overwhelming demand for mental health treatment and screening, current DOC providers manage overwhelming daily workloads, sometimes without a designated workspace to provide privacy for their patients. For those in detention, the shortage of treatment providers translates into long wait times for treatment appointments. Residents of the 12 out-of-state placement facilities, as well as inmates of some smaller prisons, have even fewer options for mental health care. In fact, DOC does not offer any mental health treatment to inmates on release.

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But the report also highlighted other issues in DOC’s response to the mental health needs of inmates, including multiple cases in which prison staff failed to properly document inmates’ risk of self-harm or suicide. . The OCO has highlighted the same issues in previous reports, including an April 2021 review of two suicide deaths at DOC facilities last year that linked poorly managed mental health screenings to the two deaths.

The OCO review also raised concerns that prison staff rarely consider inmates’ mental health when punishing them for breaking the rules. Investigators were particularly concerned about the use of the so-called intensive management units – solitary confinement – as punishment for inmates with diagnosed mental disorders, noting that placing such people in segregation can lead to ” destructive or self-injurious behavior, often resulting in offenses and penalties, resulting in repeated or increasingly severe extensions of solitary confinement. continue reading “New Report Reveals Serious Gaps in Mental Health Care for Washington Prisoners” →