Psychology Department: Overview
Our goal is to promote more effective, positive coping behavior in inmates and reduce the maladaptive actions of people under our care. Our first priority is to assist with inmates who are in more restrictive custody. This includes sitting on the administrative segregation review board that monitors these inmates and making regular rounds to monitor them in the housing areas. Our second priority is to handle requests from a variety of sources for evaluations. In this the psychologist acts as a kind of traffic cop, advising those with the responsibility in how to direct the treatment or other intervention in a way that will maximize its effectiveness.
Our services are delivered at three levels. Level I services entail basic psychological services potentially available to all offenders in the system. Although use of these services may be affected by the available resources, the basic demographics of the population (males, females, juveniles, security classification, etc.) and the priorities set by the administration, they represent what should be a minimum level of psychological services. Their primary purpose entails the detection, diagnosis, short- and long-term treatment and the referral of inmates with significant mental health problems as well as problems that may be potentially life-threatening or that may seriously disrupt the safe and secure running of the institution..
These services include an adjunct to initial intake assessments, acute crisis intervention, brief counseling, individual psychotherapy, special custody reviews, mental health and cognitive functioning evaluations and evaluations to determine risk to the community upon release. Here the psychologists play a significant role in identifying emotional, intellectual and behavioral deficits and/or identifying significant mental impairment. They can identify specialized treatment needs, provide useful information to other institutional or outside agency staff (including assault potential, adjustment problems, special housing or program needs, etc.), and inform inmates about the availability of appropriate mental health services in the community and how to access them. Through their education, training and experience, the prison psychologists possess unique qualifications for administering, scoring and interpreting a wide variety of psychological tests and then integrating all available information into a coherent, understandable and pragmatic report.
Level II services build upon the outcome of Level I services. Level II services consist of programs and services offered to specific groups of offenders who possess similar problems or attributes or who share particular mental health treatment needs. Common issues or characteristics might include inmates who share specific demographic characteristics such as females or juveniles. Inmates can also be grouped into prison-specific needs such as inmates who are struggling with being in restricted custody or those who require anger management treatment. Other inmates have specific behavioral problems such as sex-offenders. These inmates are treated according to typologies and categories that may not fit the traditional diagnostic classifications but serve the needs not only of the offender but of the community. Research has increasingly reflected that such a way of viewing inmates, interacting with particular niches or environments within the prison, represents a highly effective way of viewing offenders and their behaviors so as to effectively intervene and promote more socially constructive alternatives.
The psychologists at the Philadelphia Prisons have worked to develop and implement such programs. They are delivered typically in a limited duration, group format which makes use of not only group interaction but supplementary written handouts and worksheets for the participants to work on by themselves. Furthermore, we have found that often these materials are passed on informally to other inmates setting up a powerful social pressure to both take the desired behavioral changes seriously though the use of peer pressure but also to extend the limited resources of staff. Furthermore, such programs imbue the correctional environment with a humanizing effect and can serve as valuable incentives for inmates to engage in pro-social behaviors. Various researchers in correctional psychology have suggested that effective programs promote safer, less costly prison operations as measured by such variables as reduced inmate idleness, lower offender assault and rule infraction rates, better inmate-staff relationships and higher staff morale.
Level III services involve the application of behavioral science principles at the institutional level through consultation and other system-oriented interventions. The psychologists can and do assist the prison administration by consulting and offering professional counsel in some areas of managing the overall correctional system. Such areas include developing taxonomy employed to control diverse sub-populations more safely and efficiently. Typically this helps to separate predatory or acting-out inmates from weaker ones, identify inmates in need of special housing or those with other needs of concern to those in charge of custody.
This level of services also includes training of correctional employees in such areas as conflict resolution, confrontation-avoidance methods, reinforcement of pro-social behavior in inmates (as opposed to just reacting to the noxious, aversive actions of offenders), stress management, etc. The Psychology department has provided training to new-recruits and others over the years through the Philadelphia Prisons Training Academy. This helps to build toward the ideal of a multi-disciplinary team whose members support and respect each other's work.
Since the thrust of the Philadelphia Prison System is re-entry, even though we work with the inmates in-house and help them adjust institutionally, we not only help them with evidence-based, empirically supported treatment, we also determine what services will best be able to help them when they leave to change their lives for the better. We empower the inmates to restructure how they think and behave in order to make lifestyle changes. We refer to variety of agencies in the community to help support this change and provide continuity of care. We try to cooperate with others in and out of the prison system to promote healthy behavior and change the lives of those who drain the community into behavior that will support the community.
Dr. Carlton Payne