VIRGINIA BEACH — The sheriff’s office here received nearly $1 million state funding for a comprehensive new program to improve mental health treatment in the city.
Sheriff Ken Stolle made the announcement Tuesday.
The Virginia General Assembly has approved $916,066 for the program in the 2019-2020 state budget, pending approval by Gov. Ralph Northam, who has indicated he supports the initiative, Stolle said.
The funding will enable the sheriff’s office, in coordination with the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services, to launch a first-of-its-kind program to divert, screen, assess and treat individuals with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder before, during and after incarceration.
The money will also provide 12 positions to staff the program, which will be a joint effort between the sheriff’s office, its medical provider NaphCare Inc. and the Department of Human Services, which includes Adult Correctional Services and Community Corrections and Pretrial, Stolle said.
While details of the program are still being worked out, proposed changes include:
- Provision of a comprehensive, evidence-based screening tool to screen inmates for mental illness within 24-48 hours of booking into the Virginia Beach Correctional Center, followed by a full diagnostic screening within three days via the jail’s medical provider.
- On-site staffing to provide mental health screenings, obtain medical and psychiatric records, and advocate for diversion for treatment outside the jail.
- Improved monitoring and oversight of inmates with mental illness
- Comprehensive discharge and reentry planning to link inmates to available housing, counseling, family support and an adequate supply of medication upon their release.
- Creation of a new family education and engagement program to support inmates’ successful reintegration with family.
- Follow-up with former inmates within five days of release from jail to ensure continued access to medication, psychiatric appointments, etc.
“This program will dramatically improve mental health treatment in Virginia Beach,” Stolle said. “It will change how we approach incarceration of the mentally ill by better diverting people who do not need to be in jail and providing better oversight and treatment of those who do. Most importantly, I hope it will be a model for other communities to follow so that we can end the epidemic of mentally ill individuals needlessly languishing – and, far too often, dying – in jail. This doesn’t need to happen in Virginia Beach. It doesn’t need
to happen anywhere. This program can be part of the solution.”