Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Healping people deal

By Will Bublitz

Helping deal with the mental and emotional problems of prisoners sentenced to years of incarceration for the serious crimes they committed is the day-to-day job of Reed Berndt, the Mental Health Supervisor at the Limon Correctional Facility (LCF). 

Reed has worked at LCF for eight years, including the last five as the Mental Health Supervisor. He has more than 18-1/2 years of experience of working with prison inmates.

“The Limon Correctional Facility is a closed custody facility that houses inmates of all types from murderers on down,” he said. “I joke with my parents that I now work with all of the people they used to warn me to stay away from when I was growing up.”

Although he holds the position of Mental Health Supervisor, Reed is not an administrator but works directly with the inmates. He has to do that because LCF has such a small staff of mental health professionals.

“There is only one other mental health counselor and two drug-and-alcohol counselors right now,” he said. “I have to be involved in working with the inmates.”

To provide the help the inmates need, Reed and his staff conduct individual one-on-one sessions as well as group sessions.

“We also manage any crises the inmates may be experiencing,” he said.

To say their task is challenging would be an understatement.

“Limon Correctional Facility has a inmate population of about 950,” Reed said. “Right now, we’re dealing with an average of about 370 of those inmates. So we’re running hard all day long.”
Just the sheer volume of inmates who need counseling makes the job very demanding.

“Because there are so many, our goal is to meet with each offender at least once every three months,” Reed said. “That’s difficult because of the crises and mental health issues that some individuals are having, so we see them more often. The reality is that mental health services for inmates are stretched across the nation, which means it’s difficult to get them timely services. Some offenders have to wait months for those services.”

The types of mental, emotional and behavioral issues that Reed and his staff deals with varies from inmate to inmate.

“The inmates at LCF struggle with the same wide range of conditions that people do on the outside,” he said. “This includes anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, psychoses and just about anything you can name.”

The problem of providing adequate mental health services to the nation’s inmate populations has been growing for decades.

“The prisons have essentially become the new mental institutions for the nation,” Reed said. “Back in the 1950s and 60s, a lot of money went into state mental institutions, but in the 1970s that funding began to be cut. The patients were sent back into society with many of them ending up committing crimes and being sentenced to prison.”

In his nearly two decades of work at correctional facilities, Reed said he has seen a dramatic rise in the number of inmates requiring mental health counseling.

“When I started in 1997, the average number of offenders at a facility needing mental health assistance was 13 to 15 percent,” he said. “At present, the national average is 30 to 40 percent. At the Limon Correctional Facility, we see 35 to 40 percent of the inmates. Half of LCF is a medium security facility and the other half is close custody. Most of the inmates we see are from close custody.”

Despite the heavy work load, Reed enjoys his work.

“I like helping people with genuine needs,” he said. “I especially like working with schizophrenics who struggle with what’s real and what’s not. I like figuring out where they need the help and getting them that help.

“I also like diagnosing the mental problems of those people who get into illegal drugs as a way of self-medication. I help them find hope that they can overcome their drug addictions and the behaviors that led them to it.”

Reed explained LCF’s mental health staff members do the best they can to help the inmates.
“Personally, I feel like I am making a difference with some of these offenders,” he said. “But these changes only happen if they want them to happen. I can’t force them to change. They have to hit bottom before they will seek help and begin to make changes in their lives.”

Some inmates, whose mental or behavioral problems are so severe, are beyond the help the LCF counselors can provide.

“If their symptoms are so severe that it’s inappropriate or unsafe to return them to the inmate population, we will recommend they be sent to a psychiatric facility,” Reed said.
The Colorado Department of Corrections currently has two facilities where inmates with serious mental and behavioral problems are taken for incarceration and treatment. One is the San Carlos facility in Pueblo, while the other is the Centennial Correctional Facility in Canon City.

Reed decided upon a career in mental health counseling while growing up in Madison, Wisc.
“It began after I took a high school class in psychology,” he said. “I was absolutely fascinated with how people think. After graduating from high school, I attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison where I double majored in psychology and sociology. I graduated in 1986 with Bachelor’s degrees in both.”

Reed began his counseling career working in California for a children’s group home operated by a Christian agency.

“For two years, I worked with kids who were sent to that group home from the child detention system and health services,” he said.

To further his education, Reed then attended the Reform Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss. where he earned a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy in 1991.
After graduating, he moved to Albuquerque, N.M. where he went into private practice and worked for a Christian counseling agency.

“When I was growing up, my parents took me on vacations to the Southwest,” he said. “I really wanted to live there.”

Reed was a Albuquerque resident from 1992 to 2000. He met and married his wife Cathy there in 1994. They now have three children.

Wanting to take the next step in his career, Reed went to work in 1997 for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a company that manages private prisons and detention centers across the United States.

In 2000, Reed and his family moved to Idaho where he worked at one of CCA’s prisons as a counselor for two years.

“I then had the opportunity to move to Colorado to work at CCA’s Kit Carson Correctional Facility near Burlington,” he said. “I took it because it was a chance to live closer to my in-laws who were in Colorado Springs. My wife’s father was in the U.S. Air Force and had worked at the Air Force Academy and Cheyenne Mountain. Cathy always considered Colorado Springs as her main home while growing up.”

In 2007, Reed learned that a counseling position had opened up at the Limon Correctional Facility. He applied and was hired by the Colorado Department of Corrections. He and his family then moved to Limon.

“There are benefits and some disadvantages to living in a small town like this,” he said. “The disadvantages are mainly the lack of services that you’d find in a city, but the benefits are that it’s a much safer place for my kids. I know their friends and that they come from good families. It’s also a big benefit to live in a community that supports its school. I like that and the fact that the students at the Limon School challenge one another to succeed.”

Reed said that one of the things that sustain him in both his life and work is his strong religious faith.
“I’m a Christian, and I attend the Hi-Plains Baptist Church,” he said.


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