Del. DOC Addressing Inmate Mental Health This Week, ACLU Lawsuit - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. DOC Addressing Inmate Mental Health This Week, ACLU Lawsuit Filed Last Week

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - Estimates vary between national studies, but it's safe to say about half of people incarcerated in the United States deal with some level of mental health issue. There are more than two million people incarcerated in America. That fact presents significant challenges to corrections system across the country, including Delaware.

The state Department of Corrections is trying to better train its officers. The DOC has training this week to help the officers better recognize and address inmates with mental health issues.The department says the training has been in the works for months. But it does come less than a week after the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit alleging improper treatment of mentally ill inmates.

Dozens of corrections officers were in Dover Monday getting an introduction to mental illness and psychiatric diagnoses from Clarence Watson from the University of Pennsylvania.

"Where these disorders come from, symptoms and signs related to them, psychiatric medications, how the brain works," Watson said.

Officers get some mental health issue training in the academy and some do continuing education and seminars, but this sort of focused, more systemwide training is new to the Delaware DOC.

And it comes at an important time for the department. The ACLU suit filed last week says at least one-third of the approximately 300 people held in solitary confinement at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna have mental health issues, more than 60 with serious mental illness. The suit alleges their treatment is unconstitutional.

Watson said solitary confinement can have a psychological impact on someone whether they have existing mental health problems or not.

"It certainly can cause stress. It can cause changes in mood. And if a person has mental health issues, it can also exacerbate those issues and those symptoms," said Watson. 

In a news release the legal director for the Delaware ACLU said, "It is time to put an end to a system that holds mentally ill people under conditions that make them worse."

WBOC asked Corrections Commissioner Robert Coupe about the lawsuit.

"I can't get into the details," he said. "But I can tell you that they did work with us. Obviously, it's going to go now to litigation. But we did meet with them. They did share their concerns. And we started to work toward resolution, toward improving the delivery of services. But there's still work to be done."

According to the DOC, about half of the 6,000 people incarcerated at the state's four facilities have some level of mental health issue. They can range from somewhat minor to very serious.

According to the National Institute of Corrections, people with mental illnesses are also overrepresented in the parole and probation populations.

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