My name is Anna Huffman and I am a senior from Burlington, North Carolina. I am a double major in Psychology (B.A.) and Political Science, with a minor in the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program. During my last semester, I volunteered in Dr. Robinson’s lab which researched the effects of binge alcohol exposure in adolescence. Through that experience, I developed an interest in substance use and had a desire to work with populations most effected by substance abuse. This interest led me to my Gil Internship placement at the NC Department of Public Safety with Behavioral Health Services within the Prison System, as many inmates have suffered from substance abuse issues at some point in their lives.
This semester, I have had the privilege to work with Dr. Jon Peiper, the Assistant Director of Behavioral Health, at the NC Department of Public Safety Randall Building in Raleigh. Throughout my time here, I have been entering, organizing, and analyzing data for all inmates admitted to the 1-year pilot study for the Therapeutic Diversion Program. This program is a therapeutic alternative to restrictive housing, as restrictive housing has been shown to produce negative effects on mental health. It is a three-phase program that places inmates into cohorts and through those cohorts inmates attend different therapeutic and/or educational sessions, such as anger management, art therapy, substance use help, and interactive journaling, among many others. I have produced a spreadsheet with all the inmates that have entered the TDU program, along with numerous variables of interest such as demographic information, infraction and SIB history education information, and diagnoses.
With this data, I have created tables displaying admission and exit numbers, education information (highest grade achieved, IQ scores, diploma status, etc.), demographic information (race and age), and infraction history and SIB incidents before, during, and after TDU admission. I have also created graphs displaying the different mental health diagnoses of inmates admitted to the TDU program, showing the frequency of several of the most common mental health disorders. The NC Department of Public Safety used the graphs and tables I produced to make a PowerPoint to update the NC Legislature on the progress of the TDU program. I also conducted several literature searches to compile existing research and data on the mental health effects of restrictive housing.
Further, I had the amazing opportunity to shadow correctional psychologists in a few of the prisons. I shadowed Dr. Dikett at Central Prison, Dr. Mannino at North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women, and Mr. Futrelle at Maury Prison. With Dr. Dikett I was able to observe her doing her rounds with inmates in restrictive housing and went on a tour of the prison to see how operations are done differently in each cell block. With Dr. Mannino, I watched as she did crisis intervention for the day, having inmates come in for brief therapy whenever a crisis arose in the prison. With Mr. Futrelle, I was able to see the TDU at Maury and discuss his career path and involvement working in the prison system. These first-hand experiences were invaluable to my future career and/or educational path.
I am so appreciative of the Karen M. Gil Internship program, Dr. Peiper, and Dr. Buzinski for the insightful, exciting, educational journey I had the honor to embark on this semester. I not only enhanced my psychology knowledge, but I also grew as a professional and feel equipped with the skills to succeed in the career world. I will be forever grateful for this wonderful internship!