Arizona BMU Operations

Reading and hearing about the new Arizona prison Behavioral Management Unit (BMU) at the SuperMax in Florence Arizona; I asked the director of prisons there a few questions regarding its mission, its purpose, and its target population. The following information was provided as his response to the new BMU unit that was created and implemented to help prisoners cope with incarceration issues and prison life. As we discussed this program, the director’s clinical manager provided me with some helpful insight on the program. Dr. Ben Shaw, the current mental health director answered these questions as they were presented by this writer. My questions to the director were:

Director Ryan, what are the minimum criteria for entry into Behavioral Management Unit (BMU) Program and referral and approvals for admission process?

The BMU expands services to a target population of inmates currently diagnosed with a mental illness (Axis I and/or Axis II), who, due to their on going behavioral problems, are often being housed in maximum custody units, and who would benefit from the enhanced mental health treatment interventions. These behaviorally challenging inmates present with a complex interplay of social and psychological factors that have resulted in patterns of poor receptivity to rehabilitation efforts in either the community or, as is often seen, through a series of institutional placements. Due to their propensity for rules infraction and violence, these inmates must be treated while ensuring the safety of themselves, their fellow inmates, and ADOC staff. Inmates can be referred to BMU by the Mental Health Treatment Teams from any ADOC unit. The inmate’s treatment and behavioral history are then reviewed by the BMU Treatment Team. If this team believes that the inmate can benefit from the BMU program, he will be accepted for treatment and subsequently transferred to the BMU operational area.

Is this a statewide draw or only from Baker ward or other therapeutic areas?

Inmates may be referred from any ADOC unit, with the exception of those currently in Protective Custody status.

Are your delivery strategies outlined and written and are they available for public viewing on the website?

BMU operates under a very specific set of written operational guidelines. Delivery strategies are a combination of traditional cognitive behavioral treatment approaches and operant behavioral shaping techniques. As re-implementation of the program has taken place relatively recently, operation guidelines have not been made available to public venues to this point.

What are the basic requirements for completion of the BMU program? What are their incentives and privileges and can they withdraw from the program?

Completion of the program is based on the BMU Treatment Team’s assessment of the inmate meeting the behavioral goals contained in his Treatment/Management plan. The inmate meets with the Treatment Team on a frequent (at least monthly) basis so that he is aware of his treatment goals and the staff’s assessment of his progress toward meeting them. A variety of incentive and privileges are available to BMU participants depending on their progress in meeting their treatment and behavioral goals. Such incentives may range from special consumable items and expanded availability of store items, to the use of program appliances and extended recreation and treatment opportunities. Inmates cannot voluntarily withdraw from the program, but if they continue to be uncooperative and resistant to the treatment, they may be discharged by the Treatment Team. This would only be done, however, after the Treatment Team made an extensive effort to encourage the inmate to work through the program. Since inmates are referred to BMU, in part, because of a history of disciplinary difficulties and behavioral dysfunction, it is to be expected that there will be a period of resistance to treatment when the inmate is initially placed in the program.

Do inmates sign contracts to adhere to program rules and regulations, as well as program compliance?

Inmates receive a program orientation packet when they enter the program and this is discussed at their initial Treatment Team staffing. As inmates progress to higher phases in the program, they are expected to sign their Treatment/Management plans and to adhere to the behaviors contained in their plan.

If the goal is to re-integrate these inmates back into general population, what types of maintenance programs are in place to allow continued programming?

After completion of all phases of BMU, an assessment of the inmates continuing treatment needs will be made prior to his discharge from BMU. He may be eligible for continued mental health treatment programming, such as those available at the Flamenco Mental Health program or the Men’s Treatment Unit/Aspen. He may be more appropriate for the re-established step down program at the Tucson Unit. The Browning unit also has developed a step down format, and the inmate may be appropriate to participate in this type of process.

Will BMU become a licensed behavioral unit like Alhambra Behavioral Unit and how will it be staffed?

BMU, as a behavioral management program, would not become a licensed facility. If an inmate needed care in a licensed mental health facility, he would be transferred to the Alhambra ‘” Baker program. BMU employs a number of approaches simultaneously. The inmate receives mental health treatment, close monitoring and feedback from specially trained security staff, and tangible reinforcement for improved behavioral self control. Staff include a licensed Psychologist, a Psychology Associate, specially trained operations staff and classification officers.

We will monitor and track the progress of this most important treatment program and see how it adds up to those of established programs in other states and correctional facilities. There will be no doubt, some comparisons made with those already posted on the web and see what exactly the state of Arizona is doing or seeking to accomplish compared to the other systems already in operational status.