Belton teen aims to improve mental healthcare in prisons

Posted at 6:02 PM, Jan 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-03 20:06:25-05

WACO, Texas — The National Institute of Corrections shows an 85 percent increase in suicides in state prisons over the last two decades.

One Central Texas teenager who’s dad spent time behind bars wants to help change that.

Kelsey Richards is a Belton High School senior who hopes to make a change in how prisons handle mental healthcare.

"I want to be able to have psychiatric help for everyone for free at every jail and prison," said Richards.

"I think it will calm them better and get them in a better mindset, also make them feel safer."

Her passion started as child when her biological father was in and out of prison.

"Sometimes I would think he didn't really remember me because he didn't send me gifts or anything or he's just this bad person, but then as I grew up I realized that maybe it's not him that made this happen," said Richards.

She believes better mental health care can make a huge change in a prisoner's experience and lessen the chance of returning.

"Usually with mental health, people who don't have good mentality they do more mistakes so they get more punishment," she said.

"They go to solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is actually really bad for them and can worsen the mentality."

Kelsey has reached out to prisons across the state, in Oklahoma and New Mexico to discuss how they can improve mental healthcare.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied an on-camera interview with 25 News, but said the department "remains dedicated to serving the medical and mental health needs of all incarcerated individuals".

Kelsey will study psychology in college next year to further her goal to help prisoners.

She also has started a GoFundMe to help pay to hire therapists.