Sheriff Stolle Announces Nearly $1M for Innovative Mental Health Program

The Virginia General Assembly has approved $916,066 for the program in the 2019-2020 state budget, pending approval by Gov. Ralph Northam. Gov. Northam has indicated that he supports the initiative.

The funding will enable the Virginia Beach 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 funding will 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. 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,” said Sheriff Ken Stolle. “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.”

Program development has been overseen by Undersheriff Brian Struzzieri.

“Mental health is the biggest challenge facing law enforcement today,” Struzzieri said. “Under this new program, we are bringing together all the stakeholders to create a comprehensive solution to address mental illness in our community. This will help one of our most vulnerable populations and will make Virginia Beach a safer place by reducing unneeded incarcerations and recidivism. I am grateful for the work that Human Services has been put into developing this program with us and I am excited to see the results in the months and years to come.”

“This opportunity to partner with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office is a significant step forward in pursuing an integrated approach for behavioral health services,” said Angie Hicks, Behavioral Health Division Director for the Department of Human Services. “It is a collaborative initiative that will focus on diversion, screening, treatment coordination and reentry planning with the goal of improving outcomes, reducing recidivism and promoting fluid service provision for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. We want to detect and address behavioral health needs early on in order to develop the best plan for each individual, which includes services to prepare for successful transition back into the community.”

Sheriff Stolle has been a longtime advocate of improving mental health treatment in jails. He has called for additional funding and better coordination with Community Services Boards to divert people from the criminal justice system and, when they cannot be safely diverted, ensure a seamless transition into the community upon their release, including access to counseling, medication and housing. He fully supports efforts by the 2019 General Assembly to improve funding and pass legislation – SB1598, HB1918 and HB1942 – to improve medical and mental health care in correctional facilities.

Any questions or requests for additional information should be directed to: Kathy Hieatt, Public Information Officer: 757.385.8446.