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ISSUE ONE: Managing the Mentally Ill

Unfortunately, in today’s world, jails have become a repository for the mentally ill.  Society deems the mentally ill unstable and dangerous, and they enter a system that is often ill-equipped to handle or manage their specialized needs. Correctional staff are not meant to be mental health experts or health care professionals. Their job, instead, is to maintain security, rules, safety and the supervision of inmates. 

With limited resources, and without the ability to provide the specialized care and treatment of mentally ill detainees, their condition and mental wellness almost always deteriorates. That becomes a concerning factor, not only for the person afflicted, but also for fellow inmates and jail staff. 

My Response:  Grant Money, Partnerships & Training:

My response to this growing need has been to obtain the necessary grant money which has allowed us to provide the evaluation, care and services necessary to meet the demands of the mentally ill within the jail. To date, we’ve added two CSB workers to our facility. We now evaluate inmates within 72 hours of incarceration for mental health issues. 

We have also partnered with the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Mental Health Court to develop the process for diverting severely mentally ill inmates to treatment facilities better capable of managing their care and safety. We’ve expanded the training of our staff in Mental Health First Aid, as well as started the process to get more of our dedicated deputies CIT Certified (Crisis Intervention Training). By taking these necessary steps, we increase the safety and well-being of every inmate and staff member at our facility, better provide for human needs, and proactively avoid some of the serious complications that can occur when this issue is not addressed.

ISSUE TWO: Staff Pay and Benefits

High attrition and low morale have become staple issues for jails across the nation in recent years.  Our own facility saw a 19% attrition rate last year alone. We’ve lost 254 employees to other jobs in the last three years.  Historically, when morale sinks, it is often followed by less drive to learn new skills, more workplace apathy, and an environment for mistakes is created. While that may be a low priority for some industries, when you are charged with the care, safety and incarceration of human beings – it’s unacceptable and dangerous.

My Response:  Work to Create a Competitive Pay Scale & Cultivate Employee Value:

My first step in addressing this issue was to have a compression study done so that we could use that information to better problem-solve.  Next up will be developing the kind of working relationship with leaders from both the city and state to come up with financial solutions which will allow us to pay our deputies and staff at a competitive rate.

While certainly increasing wages is one way to foster career longevity and spike morale, it’s not the only way. The reality is people leave when they don’t feel valued, and value can mean a wide spectrum of things to a wide spectrum of people. It’s my job, and the job of our ERC (Employee Relation Committee) to find out what those things are.  That means really getting to know people. Developing those relationships. 

Engaging with every member of our team to get their input, ideas, and insights on what makes them tick and what we can do to boost cohesiveness, a positive work environment and individual value. From providing a fair, equal and respectful place to work, to having some fun, appreciating unique talents and developing a culture of caring. There are lots of ways to attract and keep good people to do the good work we do here at NSO.  Our goal is to continuously work to find and implement those ways.

ISSUE THREE:  The Reality of Re-Entry Programs

Our job is safety inside the jail and in our communities.  Statistically, 96% of the 1,100 inmates in our system will be headed back into those communities at some point.  With limited problem solving skills, subpar life skills, and a high rate of substance abuse issues – the likelihood of them re-offending or creating a public safety concern is high.  That’s the glass half-empty side of the equation.  We can and will dramatically shift those statistics by providing the right training, tools and counseling so that inmates re-enter society changed people. 

My Response:  Robust Re-Entry Programs with Proven Results

I’ve created a robust programs unit that concentrates on delivering the proven systems, tools, classes and training that allow inmates to dramatically change their course of behavior. In this unit, they’ll learn valuable problem-solving skills that will help them navigate what is often one of the most anxiety-riddled times in their life: post-incarceration. 

Studies prove that providing training for job seeking skills, the ability to interact socially, basic and even some advanced life skills, treatment for substance abuse through cognitive behavior therapy, counseling and more, inmates are more likely to successfully re-enter our communities as functioning, law-abiding members, find work, and build new lives. And that? Is not just good for the inmates and their families.  It’s good for the citizens in our communities. It’s a key to creating a safer place for every family.

ISSUE FOUR:  Reducing Vulnerability among Our Seniors and Youth

The old and the young in our communities are our most vulnerable citizens which makes them a priority to protect.  We have seniors with limited or no contact with family or friends. We have children who are at risk without safe and healthy activities during the summer.  We have parents desperate for the resources and tools necessary to protect their kids from predators, bullies or even abduction.  These are very real challenges that can become the tipping points for even bigger community issues.

My Response:  Resource Partnerships and Robust Community Affairs

The old saying, “many hands make light work” comes to mind here. By bridging gaps and creating strong, viable relationships with our local resources such as the Commonwealth Attorney, Police, Fire, Attorney General’s Office and even community and business leaders, we can connect the dots and create programs that help protect and defend the most vulnerable amongst us. 

We’re proud to have a very robust Community Affairs Unit that oversees empowering and safety-minded programs such as the Senior Watch, TRIAD Partnership, Youth Camps, and presentations for safety and Virginia Rules to youth across our city. These valuable programs increase safety, reduce crime and bullying, foster community interaction and human relations and make our city a better place to live.