Webinar presenters Dr. David Stephens and Harmony Goorley from Falcon, Inc answered a number of your questions after their presentation, “Balancing Order & Recovery: Blueprints for a High-Performing, Trauma Resilient Jail.” Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: What are housing recommendations for older jails for those who are suffering from heightened trauma? Our jail opened in 1980 and we have limited space for those at general population is just not ideal. The segregation cells don’t provide mental stimulation as much as music or TV for entertainment and the lighting is poor. I feel like the housing options serve to continue their trauma in unhealthy manners. How can we work through spacing limitations for housing? Were there studies show that they will do well in group setting although they have present safety and security concerns on the onset? Do you have any thoughts about that?
Dr. David Stephens: Yes, a couple of things. One is just the arrangement if you can do it but the arrangement of “furniture.” For example, if offenders don’t have to have their backs exposed like if they are sitting in an education classroom or a group room for therapy or even in the open area of the pod in the dayroom. Furniture sometimes can be rearranged so they can have their backs essentially some people can have their back to the wall. That can greatly reduce the amount of stress. You might be able to make some changes in terms of lighting a little bit softer light, maybe a little bit of reduced light at night. I know you have to have some lights for security purposes but you can adjust the light and I think like I mentioned earlier, sometimes you can put baffles, attach them to the walls that will reduce noise. All of those things will help reduce trauma. Your practices can also help. If you try to train staff that when they tell an offender something, that that actually – that the offender can count on that that will happen. For military veterans, to keep a pretty rigid schedule helps reduce some of their trauma and their stress. There are some procedural things that you can do as well that will help reduce trauma.
Audience Question: Is it possible to reframe what we see first or to how we interpret those traumatic events or those events that trigger other traumatic events? Is it possible to teach yourself how to see things differently or to expect things differently?
Harmony Goorley: Absolutely. That’s a great question. If we are thinking about the ways in which we respond or interpret behavior from inmates, often our go to is what’s wrong with them. When we see disruptive behavior, we think what’s wrong with them. Substituting what’s wrong with them at times can be what’s going on with them, right? In the moments obviously being disruptive, we are not going to tolerate that. We have to first preserve the physical safety of everybody but then checking in with that inmate and yourself and the environment. What’s going on that’s influencing this person especially that kind of behavior, that kind of responses particularly sudden and confusing that maybe it’s related to some type of triggering events that you weren’t witnessing that they were perceiving.
Dr. David Stephens: That educating them on the history of trauma and the effects of it. This can be offenders and staff. Many times just understanding and explaining okay what’s happening in your brain is this and it’s due to an injury. It isn’t that you just came out of the room worthless or you’re a completely terrible person. You’ve been injured and a lot of your behavior has been based on the results of those injuries. Then you can teach them some coping skills to better manage and minimize the effects of stress. When they understand that their reaction to stress is an injury response often that helps.
Audience Question: You talked about staff becoming burnt out. How do we give the staff the break or the time that they might need when we barely have enough staff to cover the shift or the time that we have now?
Harmony Goorley: A lot of jurisdictions are dealing with that. In any workday there is that minimum time off that is required while on site. Every jurisdiction is going to have different rules whether for lunch, officers can stay on or allowed to go off-campus or to have to stay on campus. Considerations about that can be important. Especially when we are short on staff and when retention is low that we really have to think about how to keep our current staff well. Again we are so short so those that we have we have to keep them the best performers of their job as possible so they can be most efficient and really focus on the priorities. These time-outs they’re going to have to eat. Eating in the mobile(?) is not really a break so there’s no mental reprieve so they are just as stimulated as they were before lunch. Giving them time and maybe practice mindfulness, maybe just listen to some music. Stepping away from what has been potentially traumatizing and triggering so that they can refuel and come back stronger and let’s say the staff which again if they are missing some bodies can have the best utilization of the bodies that are there.
Dr. David Stephens: I would just add to that. Sometimes schedulers can do some rotating, so make sure that if there has to be over time that it is distributed amongst the staff and of course that depends on job duties and job titles. Sometimes just the awareness and the attention paid to, “Well this person worked 60 hours last week so we’re not going to give them overtime or try to minimize the amount of overtime that they have this week.” Really everything we’ve talked about helps reduce the level of stress and trauma in the facility. By implementing these trauma-informed practices, the jail or the prison is just going to be overall a less stressful place which will help the demands created by having to work with short staff or be involved in overtime.
Audience Question: Do you recommend that we be more proactive in screening for veterans and understanding more about their cognitive drama during the intake process? What are your thoughts about that?
Dr. David Stephens: it’s very fascinating, Harmony and I did this very similar presentation to this at the recent National Sheriff’s Association Conference. We were told by several jail administrators that they originally didn’t know how many veterans they had in their jail. They assumed there was a couple of them. Once they started doing some investigation, some of them found out that 10 or 12 times as many veterans as they thought there were in the facility. Doing screening at intake, looking into the background, identifying people who are veterans is a very very helpful thing. You can do some things to minimize their stress like we’ve already talked about.
Harmony Goorley: Just what we learned again from those administrators during that presentation that to remove some of the barriers or the stigma associated with admitting to being a veteran. 3What they found was many were denying service initially but then once they learned that if they soft disclose their service and if there’s a benefit to them to admitting this and the services they are provided and how it can impact their say. Again, reducing that stigma can provide a more accurate representation of how many veterans are in custody.
Dr. David Stephens: Many times veterans can be diverted into a Veterans Court. If veterans are identified at the time of booking, sometimes they can be diverted out of their jail and their crimes can be managed in the community through a Veterans Court.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of “Balancing Order & Recovery: Blueprints for a High-Performing, Trauma Resilient Jail.”