Saturday, December 19, 2015

Page One Sheriff SHOAR Spin I: St. Johns County sheriff works to address mental illness

St. Johns County sheriff works to address mental illness
Posted: December 18, 2015 - 11:44pm | Updated: December 18, 2015 - 11:54pm


Concerned about jails full of mentally ill inmates, the St. Johns County sheriff has joined an effort to reform the state’s mental health system while also leading a local push to train deputies on how to handle a mental illness crisis.

“About 50 percent of the people arrested in St. Johns County have a mental health issue,” said St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar, who was recently named chair of Florida Partners in Crisis.

Some inmates suffer from substance abuse while others suffer from conditions like bipolar disorder, depression and paranoid schizophrenia, he said.

St. Johns County has few treatment facilities for those suffering from a mental illness, so the jail becomes full of people who need treatment, not incarceration, he said.

The county is an example of what is happening statewide, said Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman.

“A lot of people arrested in Florida suffer from acute mental health issues at the time of their arrest. They aren’t all sociopaths — they suffer from disorders that are treatable, but they often end up in jails because there aren’t mental health facilities, and the burden falls on law enforcement,” he said. “Jails have become warehouses for people with mental health disabilities, and it’s not fair to their families and law enforcement.”

Statewide, people suffering from a mental disorder are 18 times more likely to find a bed in a jail than a group home and are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than admitted to a facility, Leifman said.

In every county jail in the state, 14 percent of inmates either have depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, he added.

Leifman, who is chair of the 11th Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health project, has been leading mental health awareness efforts for about eight years.

He recently selected Shoar to serve as chair of Florida Partners in Crisis, which works to make sure mental health issues are addressed in the judicial system. Leifman hopes to pass legislation that reforms the state’s mental health system.

“The laws and financing of mental health systems are about 50 years old and don’t accurately represent modern issues,” Leifman said. “We need to improve the system.”

The board is hoping to pass legislation that will give judges more authority to order treatment and provide better recovery programs, he said.

“The key is getting to the people early and getting them treated. Jail doesn’t do that,” he said. “And medicine is great, but it doesn’t cure anything; it just reduces the symptoms.”

Serving on the Florida Partners in Crisis board will put the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in the front seat when drafting mental health legislation, Shoar said.

“We will be able to help come up with answers to mental health issues in the community,” he said.

But instead of waiting for legislation to pass, Shoar is already making efforts to ensure deputies know how to handle calls referencing a person having an episode, possibly due to a mental illness.

For instance, all 21 group homes are flagged, so when deputies get a call about a disturbance in a particular area, they know if a facility is nearby, he said.

“They’ll know to approach it differently,” he said.

Another example is the availability and use of less-than lethal weapons, which were issued to all deputies last week.

The less-than-lethal weapons fire projectiles that are designed to cause pain without penetrating the skin.

They will be useful when deputies respond to a possible sucide-by-cop call because it gives them an option not to use deadly force when someone is wielding a weapon, Shoar said.

“We don’t want to fulfill someone’s desire to die,” he said. “But sometimes, (we) have a choice and have to protect (ourselves).”

The less-than-lethal weapons are more useful than a stun gun because deputies don’t have to wait until a person gets close to them to take action, Shoar said.

Crisis training

To further smooth a potential conflict between police and a person having a mental health episode, Shoar is making it mandatory that everyone in the Sheriff’s Office undergo 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT.

The Memphis-based program is a “pre-arrest jail diversion (tactic) for those in a mental illness crisis,” according to the website. The program provides police with training on how to help people who are having a mental health episode.

“Police have become first responders to people with mental illnesses, and they aren’t always trained,” Leifman said.

Shoar added: “We want to orient our people to give the training and awareness on mental health issues, so when they encounter it, they know how to handle it.”

It’s not mandatory for everyone in a sheriff’s office to be CIT trained, but starting this month everyone in the department, including Shoar, will be certified.

“If I do it and all executive staff do it, it will make everyone buy into it and accept it as our culture, and a part of who we are,” he said.

Training will last about a week and will continue in week-long blocks until everyone in the office has the certification, said Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.

During that week, deputies will visit group homes, attend lectures and undergo hallucination exercises and role-playing.

Shoar was influential in getting CIT training not only to St. Johns County but to counties statewide, said Matt Dunagan, deputy director for operations for the Florida Sheriff’s Association.

Dunagan said when Shoar served as president of the association last year, he was able to get funding to provide departments with a CIT program.

In July, the association appropriated $800,000 to offer CIT training in several counties, he said.

“We’re focusing on areas like Baker Bradford, Columbia, Gadsden, Leon and Wakulla counties that don’t have any CIT program,” he said.

The goal is to have a trained CIT team statewide, he said.

“Whether it be Pinellas, Baker and Miami-Dade (counties), everyone will know how to respond to someone in crisis,” he said.

The first class was in November, Dunagan said.

Within his own office, Shoar also plans to hire a licensed social worker or mental health clinician who would be working full-time with the Sheriff’s Office. This employee will serve as a community outreach person for group homes and work with the jail on how to handle inmates who have disorder episodes.

Earlier this month, Shoar also allowed a medicine called Vivitrol to be introduced into the jail. Vivitrol, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010, is injected into the skin and curbs drug and alcohol cravings.

After an inmate who suffers from substance abuse is released, they will be given the shot, which will decrease their cravings. Shoar hopes the medicine will prevent people from being arrested again.

But the medicine has an after-care component, and the Sheriff’s Office is teaming up with Epic Behavioral Healthcare to provide the treatment.

“Before, when people were released, it was, ‘Bye, have a good life.’ But this is a proactive approach to making sure they will,” Shoar said.

NewSheriff 12/19/15 - 02:05 pm 00Follow Up Question
When Sheriff Shoar was getting funding for agencies with CIT programs last year, does that include the St John's County Sheriff's Office? Did they have a CIT program in effect for his own agency? The agency had a CIT, was it dormant for a period of time, years?
Jail inmates with mental illness( over crowding) have been an issue since Shoar was elected and re-elected.
Why care now? It's an election year and the candidate running against Sheriff Shoar has been asking for reform. This is a tactic to mirror her ideas and implement them as his own.
It's too late for Justin Way. Is your office negligent in not properly training the odd I it's officers to handle this type of cases?

Firstcoaster 12/19/15 - 02:28 pm 00New candidate
Is this the candidate who is a clerk in a plumbing business?

flg8rlvr 12/19/15 - 03:09 pm 00New candidate
Firstcoaster...not sure where that comment comes into this story since we are talking about mental health issues and the SO but since you brought it up... the new candidate running against no one at the moment (since the incumbent has not submitted his required paperwork) would be Debra Maynard. She is ex-law enforcement and does work for a local contractor as an office manager. She is not a clerk...however I believe any person that works for a decent days wage deserves matter what that employment may be!! I also believe that anyone that has guts enough to want to be sheriff of this county deserves my vote!! Thank you for opening up that door and allowing me to get the work out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Debra Maynard already put mental illness as a plank in her campaign. Shoar can't keep up with her.