24 state corrections officers graduate Friday from a new program that tries to better train prison guards to handle mentally ill inmates.
The Department of Corrections said the officers will be stationed at a new state facility that handles inmates who try to harm themselves. The Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB) unit at the Kirkland Correctional Institute outside Columbia will attempt to rehabilitate inmates who attempt suicide or try to hurt themselves by other means.
The new unit and training comes after a state judge ruled in January that the Corrections Department is failing to take care of mentally ill inmates. The ruling was in response to a 2005 lawsuit that claimed corrections officer too often responded with force to those inmates and often violated their rights by placing them in extended isolation or not providing needed medical treatment.
Corrections director Bryan Stirling said most corrections officers receive some sort of training in that area, but he wants more officers with specialized training to handle potential suicidal inmates.
“This will give the officer a perspective on key words to say that will de-escalate the behavior of the inmate,” he said. “What is their body language? How do they speak? Do they touch the inmate or do they stay away from the inmate? Do they talk with an even keel? That’s what they’re getting trained in.”
When the new SIB unit opens at the end of July, it will be the first time that Corrections officials have grouped potential self-harming inmates in the same wing.
“Obviously when an individual comes to Corrections, it can be very stressful,” Stirling said. “And if you have mental health issues, it can definitely exaggerate those mental health issues.”
The National Institute of Corrections conducted the training. Stirling said most of the trainees are volunteers who currently work at Kirkland in other mental health capacities. He said the closure of Campbell Pre-Release Center earlier this year allowed the agency to free up enough guards for the new SIB wing.