Being in prison can give rise to — or exacerbate existing — mental health challenges for inmates. Every federal prison has a Psychology Department where interested prisoners can participate in various mental health care therapies and programs. It is worth noting that prison psychology services will only authorize individual counseling sessions in extreme cases of severe mental illness or crisis. Most general population inmates are provided with group therapy.
These typically include group therapy programs such as anger management, criminal thinking, smart recovery, the Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program (NR-DAP), the Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-NR), drug education, and other classes designed to help prisoners deal with psychological concerns. Psychology Departments also offer self-help lending libraries, crisis counseling, and coordination with Health Services for psychotropic medications.
During institutional admission and orientation, new arrivals are evaluated by a Psychology Department staff member. During the interview they are informed of program offerings at the individual federal prison, and told how to sign up. As new programs are offered, informational flyers are posted in inmate housing units.
Besides providing mental health care, Psychology Departments within the Federal Bureau of Prisons are also charged with monitoring the inmate population for disruptive behavior. For example, Psychology Department staff members are assigned to review sexually explicit or suggestive materials found in inmate possession to determine if the materials are appropriate for inmate retention. Likewise, Psychology Department staff are also charged with documenting conduct that is abusive, aggressive, or risk-relevant to an inmate’s offense.
In the case of sex offenders, each federal prisoner’s psychology data file is reviewed toward the end of their sentence to determine if the government will move forward on civil commitment proceedings.
Here are some additional tips for understanding and navigating psychology services in federal prison:
- The psychologist cannot prescribe psychotropic medications, but they can coordinate with Health Services who can prescribe such medications.
- Program participation does go into the calculation of which security level you are housed, but this as a single factor isn’t given a ton of weight in the calculation.
- If you feel compelled to self-harm or are thinking about suicide, you should locate the nearest Federal Bureau of Prisons staff member and ask them to contact the Psychology Department. Do note that if you express these feelings to any BOP staff member, you will likely end up on suicide watch, which often means a cell with only a mattress in it.
- The Psychology Department has a lending library with a broad selection of self-help titles. Policies and procedures vary amongst different federal prisons, but most Psychology Departments have an open house time when prisoners can go to the department to access a psychologist or check out a book from the lending library. This open house is usually held once a week during the noon meal.
- Only the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) provides for a one-year time credit — any other drug programs do not. However, the completion of the Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program (NR-DAP) does result in a recommendation from the Psychology Department for maximum halfway house placement. However this recommendation is not binding on unit team staff decisions.
- Psychology Department program participation is usually optional. In some cases you may be required to participate in the Drug Education class. Those with a history of substance abuse or who admit to a substance abuse problem when interviewed by U.S. Probation for the creation of the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSR) are required to take this 40-hour program. Failure to complete the program can result in various sanctions.
Contact us for more information on psychology services in prison.
How to Prepare for Prison
First Day in Federal Prison
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