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Merrimack County jail first to offer mental health training

The Merrimack County jail has become the first in the state to give its staff specialized training for handling inmates suffering a mental health crisis.

Superintendent Ron White, who has previously increased mental health services at the jail, said the crisis intervention training made sense given the jail’s population: As many as half the inmates have a mental illness, he said. The training is modeled on the program New Hampshire police departments, including Concord’s, have adopted to more safely resolve police interaction with mentally ill people.

White first sent the jail’s mental health clinician and training corporal to training at the National Institute of Corrections in Colorado. A representative from the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness joined them. This week, those two staff members repeated the training for 12 staff members at the jail in Boscawen.

White said his hope is to train additional staff in August and to offer the training to other jails in the state.

“When we have a crisis in the facility with a mental health perspective, if (one of the trainees) is on duty, they can respond to that situation to better handle the situation,” White said.

The training teaches corrections officers how different mental illnesses manifest themselves and what type of responses best help de-escalate the person’s crisis. White said the Merrimack County jail has an especially large number of prisoners with mental illness because it is near Concord, home to the state hospital and counseling services.

White has long been interested in the intersection of incarceration and mental illness. He was one of the drivers behind Concord’s relatively new mental health court, which gives defendants with mental illness a chance to stay out of jail by seeking treatment instead.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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