Mental Health and Incarceration: A Concern for Correctional Facilities and Society as a Whole

Managing mental health in correctional facilities

In a striking revelation, Dr. Wally Campbell, the Chief Psychologist at the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC), has shed light on the alarming connection between mental health issues and incarceration. According to Dr. Campbell, approximately one-third of inmates entering the system already have mental health challenges, but many more are diagnosed while in prison. The harsh and stressful environment of prison can intensify existing mental health problems or even cause new ones.

Dr. Campbell has been working in correctional facilities since the 1990s and is all too familiar with the process at IDOC for assessing mental health needs. Upon arrival, inmates undergo a screening by nurses in the reception diagnostic unit to identify any immediate mental health crises. The assessment includes questions about past mental health history and current well-being to ensure that appropriate care is provided.

The stressful nature of prison can make coping mechanisms challenging, leading to changes in an individual’s mental health status. To address this issue, different levels of classification are assigned to those with mental health struggles to ensure they receive the necessary care. Despite efforts to treat mental illness, Dr. Campbell acknowledged that resources are limited when it comes to addressing the needs of incarcerated individuals. While treatment can help reduce recidivism, it may not always solve the underlying criminal behavior of some offenders.

The dual challenge of treating mental health and criminal behavior remains a complex issue in correctional facilities, and Dr. Campbell emphasizes that addressing both is crucial for ensuring a just and effective justice system for all individuals involved.

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