News: Substance Abuse
SARASOTA — As Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight’s tenure winds down, he hopes to tackle a question that has loomed over the community since he took office more than a decade ago, in 2008: What, if anything, can be done about a consistently overcrowded, overwhelmed and aging Sarasota County Jail?
He’ll be the first one to tell you that he’s “just one part of the system,” but that won’t stop him from trying to get something done during his remaining time. With any luck, he won’t be alone in advocating for a resolution. He didn’t seem like a lone wolf on Tuesday.
People with mental health and substance use disorders frequently cycle in and out of jail. It can be difficult for someone to get better when floating between jails, homeless shelters, group homes and emergency departments.
Officials at the Pitt County Sheriff’s Department noticed this pattern and they’re making changes to reduce recidivism rates and get these people the help they need.
The Pitt County department has a jail “navigator” who helps place people into safe housing and reconnect them to benefits upon their release. The sheriff’s office is also preparing to launch a new treatment program for drug users housed in the jail.
A new study offers a solution to the problems of jail overcrowding and recidivism in Michigan: Invest more in mental health and drug treatment.
Wayne State University’s Center for Behavioral Health and Justice spent five years reviewing treatment and jail-diversion programs in 10 counties. Researchers found that people who got treatment for mental health disorders were less likely to return to jail.
“Training law enforcement to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness is really important,” says Sheryl Kubiak, dean of WSU’s School of Social Work who led the study. “When we did pre- and post-interviews, officers would tell us things like they didn’t believe in mental illness, they just thought it was bad behavior.”