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Central, South Coast Jail System Steps Up Efforts To Care For Inmates With Mental Health Issues

You might be surprised to find out what agency is the largest mental health care provider in Santa Barbara County. It’s not hospitals, or a clinic. It’s the Santa Barbara County jail system. Deirdre Smith is the Santa Barbara County Jail’s Inmate Services Manager. She says a series of surveys over the last few years shows more than 50% of inmates at any given time have serious mental health issues.

The Santa Barbara County Jail system’s custody deputies have in addition to the basic duties of running the jail taken on the additional task of becoming de facto mental health workers.

Tariq Falfal is a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Custody Deputy. He says like many people getting law enforcement, he thought it was just about stopping the bad guys, and making the community a safer place. But, he soon saw there were many layers to it. Falfal is one of the many staff members going through advanced training for mental health emergency in the jail system.

The Sheriff’s Office developed a Behaviorial Sciences Unit. And, when the county’s long awaited new jail in Santa Maria opens in a few months, it will have some dedicated facilities to help deal with at risk inmates. Smith says they are going well beyond just safely housing lawbreakers with mental health issues. She says they are trying to get them the support, and treatment they need so they hopefully never return to custody.

Falfal says they are really hoping to help people turn their lives around.

More than a thousand law enforcement personnel in the county have now gone through the training, which focus on recognizing and giving them the resources to safely deal with mental health related issues among inmates.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.