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Charleston Co. Sheriff addresses agency’s mental health changes

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 7:02 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 7:28 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Sheriff Kristin Graziano said she is changing her agency’s policies and procedures to better protect those in her care who are suffering from mental illness.

The changes follow an internal investigation into the death of Jamal Sutherland, an inmate at the Al Cannon Detention Center.

That report found deputies failed to address Sutherland’s mental state from the very beginning of his intake process.

The process started with a form, filled out by a North Charleston police officer who stated Sutherland was not exhibiting mental issues.

However, body worn camera footage showed otherwise, and Sutherland’s family confirmed he was seeking treatment for bipolar schizophrenia when he was arrested.

“Just because that box is checked “no, they don’t have a mental health issue,” doesn’t mean we cannot still flag that person,” Graziano said.

The jail’s booking supervisor told investigators she believed Sutherland was mentally ill, but she didn’t know if mental health referrals were completed.

Graziano said that process will now happen automatically.

“Now it’s an automatic flagging system, so if they come into our facility, and if they are displaying that they are in a mental health crisis or they have a history of having a mental health crisis…whether you check that box or not, it’s automatically flagged in our system, and it sends an automatic alert to our mental health professionals,” Graziano said.

The Sheriff’s office also has a new comprehensive mental health policy.

“That mental health policy gives us guidance on who we need to contact to either prevent somebody from coming into our facility if they come in and they’re in crisis. If there’s a way to divert that, we can do that, or to put them in an area where they can get the help they need immediately,” Graziano said.

Mental health advocates believe Sutherland’s death could have been avoided, and they are pushing for changes across the state.

“It’s not a crime to have a mental health condition and using jail as holding areas…it’s not effective, it’s not helpful, and it’s dangerous,” NAMI Charleston Executive Director Rob Aitcheson said. “Just the need for increased mental health services inside the prison system…we need more beds here locally, so that individuals like Jamal’s situation where they’re involved in a violent situation, they can go to another mental health care facility. Then, of course, the procedures inside the jail which were highlighted, also need some serious work.”

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