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Retiring Sheriff Laments Lack Of Aid for Mentally Ill Jail Inmates

Dana Lawhorne, retiring sheriff of Alexandria, Va., remembers the bad police officers who wouldn’t come in to his family’s house when he called as a child. He also remembers the one who would take his mother upstairs and try to convince her to get help for alcoholism. “It was hope, he brought us hope,” Lawhorne said. “And I felt like, during my career, I always wanted to make people feel like there was some hope in what I could do for them.” He became a police officer at 21, without having gone to college. After 27 years, he became the sheriff in Alexandria, where he brought to the city jail a passion for programs in sobriety and education. He earned a community college degree at age 55. Lawhorne is proud to note that as of April 2021, only 35 percent of his supervisory command staff are White men; when he took office in 2006 it was nearly twice that, reports the Washington Post. As Lawhorne, 64, retires from his 16-year run as sheriff, he said all those efforts are hamstrung by a lack of resources for people leaving the high-profile jail, in particular those with serious mental health issues. “We do the best we can with what we have here. But this is a state and national crisis, in my opinion, that needs more attention from our state and national leaders,” he said. “I would ask our incoming governor to fully fund the needs of our state mental health system.” An inmate died by suicide in the jail this year after a federal facility for inmates with psychiatric problems refused to keep caring for him. “It’s one of the hardest things as a sheriff you’ll ever experience,” Lawhorne said. “It is the thing that keeps a sheriff up at night.” At the same time, his jail held Maria Butina, Paul Manafort and Chelsea Manning,” — the Russian foreign agent, the one-time chairman of former President Trump’s campaign, and the Army leaker of classified documents.

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