Navigator’s firing leaves gap in service

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Feb. 1, 2018 at 8:36 p.m.
Updated Feb. 2, 2018 at 6 a.m.

Disappointing news emerged recently from the primary source for mental health services in the Crossroads as Gulf Bend announced it had done away with a position intended to help inmates make a successful transition back into regular life.

The reasons behind the termination of the law enforcement navigator remain murky. Program officials laid the blame on a grant that state officials said was never awarded for the program.

In another explanation, mere months after hiring a longtime peace officer for the job, Gulf Bend officials said they re-analyzed and concluded the navigator didn't have the qualifications to fit the nonexistent grant. When the program was announced, Gulf Bend said the agency was funding the program. A grant was not mentioned for funding.

Still, in the short time the position was active, accounts of the benefits provided to our area's inmate and recently released populations were glowing. A chief deputy at the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office said inmates, who had previously received attention only during major crises like a suicide attempt, finally had access to a professional source to help them secure resources following release. Just a few of the areas in which the navigator facilitated help included housing, continuing education, job applications and, of course, arranging for a smooth transition of mental health care.

From research and personal anecdotes, we know former inmates who go without proper treatment are at a high risk of reoffending, many of them returning to jail shortly after their release. The position of law enforcement navigator was a strong effort to reduce that risk and provide a hand up for those most in need. Clearly, this job filled a critical gap between jail and re-entry that, following its elimination, remains unattended once more.

Hiring a law enforcement navigator was a major step forward for Gulf Bend, and we hate to see it take two steps back. Mental health care is vital in our community - even more so for the denizens of our justice system.

We urge the provider to take another look at its budget and consider reinstating a navigator.

Officials have said Gulf Bend may try to fund the position under a grant in the months ahead. We hope they do look for and receive a grant to fund such an important position in the mental health field.

Hopefully, arranging for an active navigator will stay as much a priority for them as it is for the people who benefited from it.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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