Monday, October 27, 2014

Researcher studies inmate-officer relationships in maintaining safety and security

October 27, 2014

Case Western Reserve University mental health researcher Joseph Galanek spent a cumulative nine months in an Oregon maximum-security prison to learn first-hand how the prison manages inmates with mental illness.

What he found, through 430 hours of prison observations and interviews, is that inmates were treated humanely and security was better managed when cell block officers were trained to identify symptoms of mental illness and how to respond to them.

In the 150-year-old prison, he discovered officers used their authority with flexibility and discretion within the rigid prison structure to deal with mentally ill inmates.


Conversely, Galanek said, if these inmates were sent to the segregation unit (“the hole”) to sit isolated for hours, their thoughts could lead to agitation and hallucinations that often bring on prison security problems. Mentally ill prisoners’ work was important and meaningful because it acted as a coping mechanism to decrease the impact of psychiatric symptoms, he said.

To gain such access to prison culture is highly unusual. In fact, such ethnographic studies have declined in past 30 years due to perceptions that researchers are seen as security risks within these highly controlled environments. But as a mental health specialist in Oregon’s Department of Corrections from 1996-2003, Galanek was uniquely prepared to navigate the prison for his research.

“They trusted me,” he said. “I knew how to move, talk and interact with staff and inmates in the prison.”


No comments:

Post a Comment