Managing the Mental Health Population at the Broward Sheriff's Office

Article excerpt

Studies estimate that as many as 700,000 adults entering jails each year have active symptoms of serious mental illnesses, (1) with the majority (60 percent) of symptoms related to major depression, mania or psychotic disorders. (2) One study shows that the U.S. prison population will grow by 192,000 inmates (13 percent) from 2007 to 2011, and 45 percent of' that growth will be attributed to four states, including Florida, and the federal system (3); And these figures do not even take into account jail growth. The Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) has developed some innovative ways to manage inmates with mental health issues. In an effort to meet the needs of this population, a certified mental health team--comprising correctional Staff, mental health practitioners and medical staff who are trained in managing the needs of mentally ill offenders--has been selected.


A brief history of BSO. Broward County has a population of close to 2 million and only one jail system. BSO's Department of Detention operates the 12th largest local jail system in the U.S. with 5,722 beds and five jail facilities housing male and female misdemeanants, felons and juvenile inmates for all the municipalities in the county. The facilities operate under the Florida Model Jail Standards and are fully accredited by the American Correctional Association; the National Commission on Correctional Heath Care (NCCHC); and the Florida Correctional Accreditation Commission (FCAC).

The jail's five housing facilities are: Main Jail, which is a podular jail that houses maximum/medium-custody inmates; North Broward Bureau, which is podular and houses the medium general population, the infirmary and the Mental Health Unit; and the Sheriff's North Jail, the Conte Facility and the Stockade, which are direct supervision jails that house medium/misdemeanor-custody inmates. The five jails average approximately 5,300 inmates, of which about 850 (16 percent) are on prescribed psychotropic medication to treat serious mental illnesses.

The North Broward Bureau operates a 375-bed Mental Health Unit for male and female inmates experiencing severe symptoms of mental illness and those requiring specialized housing and treatment services. In 2007, the average length of stay for the mental health population was 76.28 days, compared with 29.02 for the entire inmate population. The units are divided into classification categories based on inmates' levels of psychiatric functioning and demonstrated institutional behavior. The "open" mental health units house the general mental health population, whereas the "closed" units house inmates requiring some level of segregation for safety and security reasons. There are also specialty units for intake, suicide watch, psychological evaluation and transitional programs.

Certified correctional staff. Inmates with mental health issues are supervised and managed primarily by the certified correctional staff who oversee their housing, recreation programs, meals and other activities. The certified staff are administratively selected for these positions based on their work ethic and input from supervisors. They are then given specialized training to manage the mental health population.

Beyond the standardized training for correctional staff mandated by the state, Mental Health Unit staff are given a block of basic mental health training in the academy and during their annual in-service training. In addition, the mental health staff must attend 40 hours of specialized, advanced mental health training. This specialized training, implemented in 2004, was used in 2006 as a model by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission to develop a certified 40-hour advanced training class titled "Managing and Communicating with Inmates and Offenders" (4) for law enforcement, correctional and correctional probation officers. Through this training, participants realize an increased of level of safety and management skills; learn about social, emotional and organizational intelligence to enhance human interaction skills; and practice communication skills to help them interact with individuals who have mental illness, substance abuse problems and co-occurring disorders. …