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Swaim, Katarina headshotHi! My name is Katarina and I am a senior majoring in psychology and minoring in biology and chemistry. This semester I have been working in the Behavioral Health Services for the NC Department of Adult Corrections, which deals with mental healthcare for the NC prison system. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and to be working with Dr. Jon Peiper, the Assistant Director of Behavioral Health. I became acquainted with forensic psychology during an internship last summer at Broughton Hospital, where I also gained an interest in treatment models for mental health disorders in highly restrictive environments. I chose this placement because I am interested in learning more about this population and about the delivery of behavioral health services within the prison system.

Previous Gil Interns here have worked on projects relating to the mental health status of inmates in high security maximum controlled segregation units, previously called solitary confinement. Their projects have contributed to the creation of treatment programs for inmates with mental health disorders that provide an alternative to placement in segregation units. Today, the percent of inmates with mental health disorders who are in segregation units is significantly reduced as compared to before the implementation of those programs. My project has been to update and organize a database detailing incidents of self-injurious behavior among all inmates in North Carolina. I have now begun analyzing the data in the hopes of identifying trends that point to areas of improvement and prevention. It is amazing that the work the Gil Interns have been doing over the years has made a real impact. It gives me hope that my project will ultimately lead to policy changes and improved behavioral health outcomes for the inmates.

As I am nearing the end of my database project, I am setting up some days to shadow prison psychologists at Central Prison as well as the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women. When I first began working here I read through several policy and procedures manuals to get acquainted with the protocols relating to self-injurious behaviors, suicide precautions, and restrictive housing. As I have worked on the database, I have been able to read the mental health charts of countless individual inmates and have gotten a glimpse into their backgrounds and the circumstances surrounding their self-injury. I am looking forward to shadowing and experiencing first-hand the prison environment as well as the mental health treatment programs.  I feel as though I will gain much more from the experience after having built some background familiarity by spending so much time reading about the prison policies and inmates. The work that I had been doing focused only on adverse mental health outcomes and I am excited to spend some time learning about the treatment programs and protective measures as well. The shadowing component of my internship will tie together some of the themes that I have spent the last two months researching as well as round out my understanding of the mental health services offered in the prison system. I am sure it will lead to many unexpected insights!

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