SARASOTA, Fla. — Bridging the gap between mental health and law enforcement is something Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight has been working on for years. Now, he's taking it one step further by retiring as sheriff to become CEO of First Step Sarasota.
People with mental health and addiction problems have crowded the jails of our country.
"It bothered me, it really bothered me, and I’ve known it for a time," said Knight.
Knight says 6,500 people have been Baker-Acted in the last five years, and there are currently 400 inmates in Sarasota who suffer from mental health and addiction issues.
"In addiction, I had a lot of poor decision-making skills," said David Pruitt, a recovering addict.
Pruitt says those poor decisions landed him in jail over and over again.
"It was like a revolving door. I would get out with a new resolve where I wanted to change my life but I didn’t have the tools to do it," said Pruitt.
But Pruitt says that all changed when he went through one of the 54 recovery programs Sheriff Knight created at the jail. Now he’s been sober for more than seven years.
"He’s definitely bridged the gap between the corrections side of things and treatment," said Pruitt.
Now the sheriff wants to do even more.
When he retires from his role of Sarasota sheriff in January, Knight will take on a new role as the CEO of First Step, the area’s largest behavioral health and addiction recovery program.
"We're here to make people better and help people, not just put handcuffs on people," said Knight.
Knight says his new role will allow him to work hand in hand with law enforcement to better resolve mental health emergencies in the community.
"My hope being here is we could use First Step as a tool saying, don’t call 911, call us and we’re going to help you with a plan," said Knight.
Knight retires from Sarasota County Sheriff on Jan. 4 and will begin his role at First Step on Jan. 25.
To learn more about First Step, click here.