Feb. 22 - Chatham County Sheriff’s Office Becomes First Jail in the Country to be Accredited for Mental Health Services

Category: Law

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

February 22, 2019 - The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office has become the first jail in the United States to be accredited for mental health services, as well as the first to achieve dual accreditation in mental health and health services from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). 

“Since I was elected Sheriff in 2016, I made mental health a top priority,” said Chatham County Sheriff John T. Wilcher. “There has been a steady rise in mental health needs of our inmates and it is our responsibility to be better equipped to handle and help these individuals. While I strongly feel that we are not a jail for the mentally ill and that the mentally ill do not belong in our facility, I still feel it is incumbent upon us to adequately train our staff for their own safety and the safety of other inmates.”

The Sheriff’s Office has experienced many challenges over the years that are presented by not just a large inmate population, but a large inmate population with mental health needs ranging from serious mental illness all the way to substance abuse disorders.

“While this accreditation does not solve all of our problems as a community, it does provide a blueprint for navigating some of our daily challenges and ensures that we will continue to have the systems in place to meet them head on,” explained Wilcher.

In order to obtain this accreditation, the Sheriff’s Office has instituted several positive changes including hiring additional mental health staff, including a full-time psychiatrist and additional counselors, enhanced crisis intervention and mental health first-aid training for police and corrections officers, and an improved intake and screening process. 

According to Todd Freesemann, policy and accreditation administrator for the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, this accreditation will begin to have a very positive impact on operations. 

“When you take care of an issue such as a mental health challenge, other problems are also solved, like reducing security issues, length of jail stays and the draining of fewer resources,” Freesemann explained. “We still have a long way to go in order to say this issue is contained, but with this accreditation as our roadmap, we can proudly say that we have the right resources in the right places.”


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