Jail Officers Learn to Cool Down a Crisis

New Program Teaches Mental-Health Awareness to Custody Staff

Chief Custody Deputy Vincent Wasilewsky
Credit: Courtesy

During the week of January 13, the staff of Santa Barbara’s County Jail started a three-day, 24-hour course to give correctional officers a better understanding of how to interact with inmates who have mental-health issues. Over the last several years, the main County Jail on Calle Real has been condemned for its inadequate facilities and resources for prisoners who suffer from mental illness. 

“The purpose of this training is to give our staff enhanced skills in handling inmates that may be in crisis,” said Vincent Wasilewski, chief custody deputy at the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office. “We here in Custody Operations are very proud of our efforts in securing, developing, and delivering this training.” All correctional staff will be required to undergo the training, according to Wasilewski. 

Over the last several years, in response to pressure to do more to address the county’s increased emphasis on mental-health issues, the Sheriff’s Office has instituted several initiatives to educate officers and improve their interactions with inmates. The training focuses on recognizing individuals with mental-health issues and teaches officers how to focus on de-escalation. 

Funding for the training was obtained by Dr. Cherylynn Lee, the head of the Behavioral Sciences Unit. The training takes several months to complete and was put together by Lee, Inmate Programs Manager Dierdre Smith, and Amber Nunes, the health services administrator for WellPath, the contractor in charge of health care at the jail. 

According to Wasilewski, topics covered during training include active listening and communicating during a crisis, medications and substance abuse disorder, psychiatric disorders, suicide prevention, officer wellness, and cultural competency and stigma. From probation officials and public defenders, jail staff learn about discharge planning, veterans issues, and national and local mental health issues.


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