Addressing mental health in the local law enforcement system

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – As prosecutors work to determine if the deputies — who forcibly removed Jamal Sutherland from his cell at the Al Cannon Detention Center — will be charged in his death, there is a renewed focus on how people with mental illness are treated by the judicial system. 

Sutherland died January 5th after deputies tried to take him to a bond court hearing while he appeared to be having a mental health crisis.

Jennifer Roberts is the executive director of the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center, and she says they work extensively with law enforcement to keep the mentally ill from going to jail if it is avoidable.

“We do a lot of training with law enforcement,” said Roberts.”It’s called ‘CIT’ training and it’s a 40-hour training to teach law enforcement how to deal with people who are mentally ill and how to recognize the signs and symptoms and how to de-escalate.”

Aside from embedding mental health professionals with police, a mobile crisis team is available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

“Having mobile crisis go out with law enforcement is often very helpful and in the Charleston area police calls mobile crisis a lot,” Roberts told News 2.

The numbers illustrate just how often mobile crisis is used, and according to South Carolina Department of Mental Health statistics, the team keeps people from going to hospitals or in many cases the judicial system.

The Charleston crisis team alone responded to 671 calls in 2020. 

  • 265 calls from law enforcement
  • 893 people diverted from emergency rooms
  • 815 diverted from inpatient mental health centers
  • 70 diverted from going to jail.

Mobile crisis does not operate within the Al Cannon Detention Center. Roberts says that is because they have a team of people there already who can do assessments and work with people coming into and leaving jail. However, they were not called to assist with Sutherland the day he died.

Roberts is hopeful that additional money that is included in the South Carolina House of Representatives budget will allow the department of mental health to expand its role within the jail.

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