Even as a 23-year-old rookie with the Sarasota Police Department getting a street-level view of the burgeoning crack cocaine epidemic, at least one thing became immediately obvious to Tom Knight: locking up the buyers wasn’t going to solve anything.
“You’re not going to arrest your way out of addiction; you’re just filling up our jails with people who may have done nothing more wrong in life than getting addicted,” recalled Sarasota County’s top law enforcement official.
“Maybe they don’t have the right parents or loved ones around to get them help. Maybe they don’t have the money or the influence. But when they do get out, they’ll go right back and do it again.”
Thirty-three years later, the observational lessons Knight applied to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office after getting elected in 2008 have resulted in dramatically fewer arrests, a commensurate reduction in crime, and a proliferation of inmate social-services options that have depressed recidivism rates. As a consequence, Sarasota County’s largest nonprofit behavioral health care agency is making a bold leadership move.
Local broadcast news outlet WSNN has done an interview with Tracey Weeden, head of First Step of Sarasota's In-Patient & Residential Services, about the effects of COVID-19 on minority populations.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month, an observance seeking to destigmatize mental illness among people of color.
"Minority populations have been disproportionally dying from COVID-19, disproportionally affected by COVID-19, including access to appropriate healthcare," Weeden said.
This link will take you to the video of the interview.
After a nine-month consolidation process, First Step of Sarasota and Coastal Behavioral Healthcare have officially — as of July 1 — begun operations under the First Step name and brand. The core services and programs will still be available to community members in need, and the organization's leadership says the merger will result in stronger, more comprehensive solutions for those with mental health and addiction disorders.
The nonprofit agencies shared a similar focus on providing addiction recovery programs and behavioral health services in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, and Charlotte counties. Their staff members noted that they frequently referred clients to each other's services.
By combining operations, First Step will now be able to offer:
“We’ve really been working on making sure that — no matter where a client decides to access care or if a change in care is needed — they have a seamless transition to additional services,” said Tracey Weeden, LCSW, First Step’s chief inpatient and residential services officer.