Partnership between state prison and NAMI NH aims to help incarcerated individuals

The guard tower at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord on June 17, 2016.

The guard tower at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord on June 17, 2016. AP

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 12-22-2023 2:29 PM

Prison officers will receive training from the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New Hampshire to better support incarcerated individuals facing mental health challenges.

Funded by a state grant, the initiative aims to create a correctional environment that is sensitive to trauma by providing crisis intervention training and teaching prison staff to provide effective responses to individuals with mental health challenges while working in a stressful environment.

”NAMI NH has a well-established history of delivering excellent training programs that promote evidence-informed practices crucial to preventing adverse outcomes for individuals experiencing mental illness,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks said in a statement. “Having specialized training focused on the justice-involved population will provide invaluable skills and knowledge to our staff and it will also allow them to better assist any person in crisis.”

In 2021, NAMI NH provided Crisis Intervention Team training for a small number of correctional officers, but through this new initiative, all correctional staff will now undergo the training.

Crisis intervention training is a comprehensive 40-hour program designed to reduce the risk of serious injury or death in law enforcement interactions with individuals facing mental health challenges. The training incorporates scenario-based instruction and role-playing, intended to provide skills to officers to de-escalate emergencies without using force.

Additional training programs will also be introduced to build a trauma-responsive correctional setting and respond to people dealing with mental illness.

“We look forward to working together to ensure corrections staff have the training and resources they need to respond to the individuals with whom they work, helping them to access the care and services they need to return to living full lives in their communities,” said Susan Stearns, executive director of NAMI NH.

In 2021, 55% of the individuals entering a New Hampshire Department of Corrections facility were identified as needing behavioral health services while incarcerated. Additionally, 54% of them were referred specifically for substance use services.

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These statistics highlight the need for correctional staff to undergo training that enhances their skills and sensitivity when dealing with individuals in the criminal justice system who have mental illnesses, Hanks and Stearns said.

A key focus will be to help individuals rejoin society after incarceration.

“We want to help people and their family, certainly while they may be incarcerated, but we really want to help them be successful with their reentry into the community,” said Stearns.