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Pilot program aims to deescalate mental health crises in El Paso County Jail

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A pilot program at the El Paso County Jail is hoping to decrease the number of times deputies have to intervene when an inmate is suffering from a mental health crisis, by bringing in Mental Health Professionals to deescalate situations.

The Therapeutic Response Unit and Stabilization Team, also known as ‘TRUST,’ will now be utilized inside the jail during emotional and behavioral crises.

"The TRUST program is a therapeutic response to our incarcerated citizens who are in some level of emotional distress," said Laura Ridenour, Detentions Behavioral Health Manager.

It’s a program the Sheriff's Office of Behavioral Health says has been in the works for a while, and came about after seeing a rise in people experiencing mental health symptoms in jail.

Now, instead of deputies always stepping in, Mental Health Professionals — who have master's degrees in clinical counseling — will help a distressed inmate.

"First off, they're going to help role model calming behaviors, going through some of those behaviors with them, help them manage their triggers, help them find some level of self-soothing, and then follow up with a continuation of care after that crisis is managed," said Ridenour.

That help extends even after the immediate crisis has been diffused.

“It's a continuation of support, whether that be helping connect them to resources in the community upon release, or getting referrals over to our medical vendor, or just continuing being able just to listen to them while they're here in the jail,” said Ridenour.

The Sheriff's Office says this specialized unit is staffed with two clinicians and a supervisor who are trained in crisis response. In the initial month of this initiative, they say the program has seen success in de-escalating citizens experiencing acute and prolonged emotional distress.

Those behind the new program hope it will get people the help they need, so they don’t end up back in jail.

"We want jail to not be necessarily just about the punishment, but to be a good stepping stone for recovery, whatever that might look like for that person," said Ridenour.

Sheriff Bill Elder says this program will allow for the best outcomes in situations of crisis.

"Addressing mental health issues is a priority for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office," said Sheriff Elder. "Individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis will now have an opportunity for an enhanced law enforcement response in the Jail. This interaction will provide the best outcomes for those in crisis. I am committed to making sure our workforce is well prepared to respond and deal with this segment of our population."

In addition to TRUST assisting with de-escalation inside the jail, Sheriff's Office deputies are all trained in crisis intervention. The Sheriff's Office says deputies also are trained in effective use of verbal and non-verbal communication techniques and know how to implement de-escalation strategies that are oriented toward recovery and resilience.

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Mallory Anderson

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