CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano is sharing some of the changes she said are making a difference within the Al Cannon Detention Center aimed a bringing more attention to those facing mental health challenges.
“Much progress has been made in the first 6 months of my term,” she said in a statement online. “I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken to increase safety, specifically at the detention center. There’s much more to come.”
These changes follow the in-custody death of Jamal Sutherland back in January of this year. Sutherland died shortly after being booked into the detention center following an incident at a local mental health facility.
Sutherland was required to attend a bond hearing while experiencing a mental health crisis. He died after detention deputies used pepper spray and tased him numerous times while attempting to extricate him from a cell.
“Our internal policy was changed to allow our detention center’s residents the right to refuse their bond hearing. They no longer have to do so in front of a judge,” said Graziano in an online blog. “This unwritten policy was longstanding during the previous administration, and our internal policy now aligns with state law.”
The detention center is now using new software that allows residents the ability to attend their bond hearings remotely through electronic devices inside their cells.
Detention officers have also been directed to de-escalate and disengage when a resident becomes combative or uncooperative.
Sheriff Graziano said that the new policy states detention officers “have a duty to intervene if they see something they believe goes against policy and/or safety.” Meaning if they see something, they should immediately report it to their supervisor.
“I’m particularly proud that residents who are experiencing a mental health crisis have more safeguards to protect them — and my employees,” Sheriff Graziano stated. “Our facility has traditionally been the largest provider of mental health treatment because it has been a dumping ground. It speaks to the mental health crisis our community is experiencing.”
Should a citizen who is experiencing a mental health crisis arrive at the detention center, Sheriff Graziano said they will be evaluated by a mobile crisis unit before being processed and booked into the jail. “We have turned away residents to be sent to medical facilities because that was the more appropriate setting for stabilization,” she said.
The sheriff’s office now has a proactive tracking system that will alert medical staff that a resident needs an evaluation.
“In this instance, when our detention center’s processing nurse identifies someone who has an issue with mental health or a drug or alcohol problem, an immediate alert goes to our medical team, who will see them as soon as possible.”
Sheriff Graziano said another change taking place is the “retraining and renaming of our special group of detention officers who are called in to assist difficult cases.” She said the previous Special Operations Group will now be called the Emergency Response Team.
Finally, those being houses inside the Al Cannon Detention Center will no longer be called inmates. Instead, they’ll be called residents – a term Sheriff Graziano says better reflects who these people are: members of our community.
She said these steps mark just the beginning of more changes to better the agency and detention center.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office will host a multi-disciplinary summit on August 4th to address community issues and how to minimize law enforcement interactions with people who are in crisis.
Legislators, Charleston County Council members, the Department of Mental Health, substance abuse counselors, law enforcement, EMS, and community stakeholders will learn from the Palm Beach County (Florida) Behavioral Health Unit about work they perform in their own community.
You can read Sheriff Graziano’s full statement on changes at the detention center by clicking here.