Correctional officers and nurses in a North Carolina maximum-security prison's new mental health unit took part in a role-playing session with a mentally-ill “inmate” who actually was Benny Langdon, a former prison administrator who has become an evangelist for teaching police, prison officers and others a non-aggressive way of defusing encounters with the mentally ill, says the Raleigh News & Observer.
Over the past 25 years, crisis intervention team training has spread among law enforcement agencies across the U.S.; now it is being tested in the nation's prisons, which have become the largest repositories for people with mental health problems. “It is mostly verbal,” Langdon says, “and less moving hands, body, not advancing, talking to the subject. Teaching them you don't have to go hands-on. There's less risk of being hurt. It's effective. It just works.” North Carolina’s Central Prison has begun crisis intervention training, and hired more mental health staff and social workers. Prisoners are now let out of their cells for 10 hours a week to join group therapy or individual counseling sessions. Tamper-proof, anti-microbial and fireproof mattresses are now in use, replacing what had been a source of frequent vandalism. An agitated prisoner with a history of violent outbursts is strapped into a “spider chair” that allows him to meet with a prison psychologist in a private room instead of accompanied by a pair of guards the way it used to be.