Last week, a sobbing, suicidal inmate barricaded herself in a Minneapolis jail cell and refused to come out. Another inmate did likewise in another cell; she requested medical care as she showered jail officers with the kind of crude and sexually tinged language that would make even a street pimp blush. Four floors below, a clearly agitated inmate named “Michael” held a physician hostage in a locked room. “I’m not going to hurt him. I just need new medication,” the hostage taker bellowed to a sweaty-palmed-but-composed jail negotiator on the other side of the locked door.
Luckily, this was all theater, says St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. The inmates were actors playing roles in a four-day crisis-intervention team training session put on by the Barbara Schneider Foundation. The Twin Cities-based nonprofit is named after a mentally ill woman fatally shot by police during a standoff in 2000. In recent decades, jails and prisons have become the largest psychiatric hospitals and the repositories of last resort for mentally ill offenders. The response in places like Minnesota such offenders can raise has been: Raise awareness. Change the mind-set. Cut through the entrenched cultural stigma about the mentally ill without sacrificing officer safety. Embrace de-escalation techniques while toning down the traditional law-and-order use-of-force continuum. Hennepin County Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Carroll says use-of-force incidents – in which officers physically subdue or restrain inmates – have plunged 40 percent in the county jail in the two years since the training was introduced.