TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – After receiving more than 500 calls regarding mental and behavioral health in 2020, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux has put together a team of four deputies that will respond to those calls with mental health clinicians from health and human services leading the way.
“The idea is that the clinician will actually be the first forefront responder. The deputy will step to the background, and that clinician will begin evaluating that person in the field. If there is a criminal act, do we need to arrest them right away, or do we allow the clinician to evaluate what this person was going through at the time?” Boudreaux said.
He believes many jail inmates should be getting professional help instead of serving time in jail. With this program, professionals will be along for every step of the process.
“What we want to do hopefully is identify those high-level risk mental health or behavioral health inmates that are released so we can follow-up at the house, see how they’re doing, if they’re taking medication, speak with family,” he said.
Boudreaux hopes the presence and de-escalation skills provided by mental health workers will reduce the use of force by deputies, prevent crimes before they’re committed, and keep more people out of jail. It’s one part of the puzzle to relieve overcrowded jails and social service programs.
“The state department of mental health is overloaded. There’s no room at the inn. Local jurisdictions are going to have to do something to offset those levels of behavioral health issues coming into our local jail system,” Boudreaux said.
After about a year, Boudreaux said the office is going to present the data and results from this team to the county’s board of supervisors, while health and human services present their results to the state. He hopes they will be able to expand the team, gain more resources, and inspire cities to create similar programs.