Such programs are recommended by the National Institute of Corrections, and many states have tried them with general success. Minnesota started its training in late 2011. Stillwater Warden Michelle Smith led the team that signed a $50,000 contract with consulting company Pro-Crisis of River Falls, Wis. Four times a year, the company conducts crisis intervention training at Stillwater prison. Correctional officers attend a weeklong training program because cultivating patience takes time, Smith said. "When you're dealing with a population that has the potential to be volatile, they're looking for somebody that they can believe in and trust," she said. Each day, students engage in role-playing scenarios that reflect what can happen in prison. In 2012, Minnesota inmates assaulted prison staff members 17 times.
As the week progresses, the scenarios become more difficult.
"The more you do it, the more you see it, the more you learn," Smith said. So far, 108 Department of Corrections employees have completed the program. Pro-Crisis owner Patti Hecht-Kressly, a retired St. Paul police officer, said students learn to listen and be nonconfrontational. Although that might sound simple, she said, it can be difficult for some people to learn. "Cops are taught in school, and (correctional officers) are taught, that you go in there and you take care of the situation -- you go physical and that's the way we're going to do it," Hecht-Kressly said. "To go in and talk to somebody is much different."
Having a properly trained officer on staff allows prison personnel to call the nearest CIT officer to respond to a critical incident with a mentally ill inmate. Smith, the Stillwater warden, wants one-fourth of correctional officers to receive the training, even though there is no documented evidence yet of its effectiveness in Minnesota facilities.
The Department of Corrections is developing a procedure to monitor such incidents. For the moment, department officials can say only that they happen often.
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