March 17, 2014

IDOC to address offenders' special needs

Move comes after judge rules prison care inadequate

By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune

---- — The Indiana Department of Correction is taking steps to improve the quality of care for mentally ill offenders, leaders said recently.

“This is a great thing,” said Donna Henry, vice president of clinical and residential services at Four County.

The IDOC has partnered with Corizon Correctional Healthcare, Mental Health America of Indiana and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Indiana to offer a staff training program to increase knowledge and skills needed to work with special need offenders, a press release said.

Units designed to meet the needs of seriously mentally ill offenders have been established at four facilities in the state, including Pendleton Correctional Facility, New Castle Correctional Facility, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility and Indiana Women’s Prison.

Many offenders are mentally ill and need the extra assistance, Henry said.

More than 5,000, or 12 percent of the state’s prison population, have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

The changes came from a ruling by U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt that “mentally ill prisoners within the IDOC segregation units are not receiving adequate mental health care in terms of scope, intensity and duration.” Pratt requested IDOC make plans to improve services to mentally ill offenders, a press release stated.

All new IDOC employees and veteran staff will receive training to better prepare them to work with offenders with mental health needs. The training will include interaction with individuals and families affected by mental illness, a press release said.

Four County continues to offer services to further mental health integration, Henry said.

A Four County therapist works at the Cass/Pulaski Community Corrections in Logansport. The therapist works closely with several groups.

“We’re very active with corrections,” Henry said.

Across the state, corrections staff will receive further specialized training to become certified treatment specialists and nearly 300 IDOC staff members have already obtained that certification.

The Four County therapist works with the general population, including mentally ill offenders.

Four County therapists also go to the jail and help market medications, something that has been offered for a few years, Henry said.

“It helps people prepare for life in the community,” Henry said. “It gives coping skills just to prepare them when they get out and also teaches them new ways to deal with life’s pressures.”

Another aspect of this approach is that qualified offenders are trained to serve as peer mentors. The peer mentors will work directly with the offenders with mental health needs to assist them with their day-to-day needs, the press release said.

Additional programs are in the development phase and expected to roll out in 2014.

In the meantime, Henry said she’d be interested assisting in any way possible. She can be reached at

“Anything we can do, we’ll do,” Henry said.

Amie Sites is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5117 or Follow her: @PharosAES.