Mental Health: Not Just a Program

By Gannon, John L. | Corrections Today, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Mental Health: Not Just a Program

Gannon, John L., Corrections Today

In an age of aphorisms, the observation that America is fatting when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill has become cliche. Nowhere is that truth more obvious than in corrections, where the "order" of the law and the "disorders" of mental illness have their most enduring encounters.

In the February 2005 Corrections Today Commentary article, I concluded that both mentally ill and nonmentally ill offenders need institutions, but they need different kinds of institutions. The mentally impaired and the characterologically impaired (meaning an impairment in a person's character) are populations that are different kind, not just in degree, and as a result, they need institutions that are also different in philosophies, goals, policies and interventions. Six years later, the hens of reform flutter ever more frantically about the coop, kicking up the dust and feathers of expensive lawsuits, more screening devices and new best practices, but the roosting places for change have remained elusive. Perhaps the problem lies within the mental models corrections has been using--models that ignore important differences and underuse the skills of mental health staff.

Despite the good intentions of many administrators; and practitioners, the thinking that corrections has often been using is destined to fail from the sheer weight of differences in a whole host of areas. In fact, it seems even more obvious today that not only is the model of housing severely mentally ill people in correctional facilities rather than treatment facilities wrong, but differences within the models of clinical skills, clinical intervention, management of mental health staff and, indeed, the basic conceptual model of behavioral change underlying the entire process have been too heavy to be supported by the current structure for a long time.

Mental Health Staff Vary in Background and Training

Correctional mental health is typically an unwanted buckle affixed to the correctional and military model boot. The military model is, of necessity, built on the twin pillars of conformity and interchangeability. In this model, as well as in many correctional agencies, roles are carefully defined and staff are expected to rotate through a variety of positions without Joss of safety or efficiency. Interestingly, there is a parallel in medical training where the specificity of the information for medical personnel, based on a consensus of what constitutes the required body of knowledge and the articulation of clear standards of practice, leads to similar essential interchangeability of skills among medical staff that are suitable for most prison requirements.

This is not true with respect to mental health staff. States provide licensing requirements for psychologists, social workers and others in the field, but there are many high-quality paths to those licenses, and they definitely do not lead to the same degree of uniformity in mental health that is found in either medical or correctional staff. Broad variability in theoretical perspectives and clinical training mean that some mental health professionals, while perfectly effective in the community, will not be suitable for employment in correctional settings. Administrators need to keep in mind the important differences in how mental health professionals are trained, the philosophies they harbor and the goals they seek to achieve. Any skills model that expects uniformity and interchangeability among mental health staff will not be able to bear the weight of these differences.

Understanding Crime to Treat Offenders

The flip side of the uniformity model in staff is the uniformity model in offenders. Everyone recognizes that there are more differences behind the inmates' identification numbers than just the shirt size they may be printed on, yet institutional policies are specifically intended to be evenhanded and uniform when it comes to interacting with inmates. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Mental Health: Not Just a Program


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.