VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Years ago, Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle saw a mental health crisis growing among inmates at the city jail.

“When we started this program, they came in and did the mental health evaluations themselves and about 80% of the inmates were mentally ill, so it creates a huge problem,” said Stolle.

To combat that, he created a program that meets the inmates where they are. It starts with a mental health screening process. Then, it provides counseling, mentors, and medication while locked up. Most importantly, when they get out, they’re are provided housing and connected with benefits like Medicaid so they can continue their treatment.

“I dont think you can rehabilitate a mentally ill person. I think you need to treat them,” said Stolle.

In 2019, Stolle was finally able to get the state funding to bring the program to life.

About $900,000 and 12 new staff positions later, it went into action and the results are staggering.

“When we realized that 92 to 93% of our inmates that were mentally ill recidivated within six months or so. It’s almost a death sentence to them. So this has reversed that completely. Now we have about 96% of people not recidivating,” Stolle explained.

One of the inmates on the path to success is Kenneth Langrehr. He says he battles schizophrenia among other mental health issues — and now he’s getting the treatment he needs.

“There always is a stigma around mental health. As far as … schizophrenia is concerned, you have to be medicated and people look down on people who have a mental illness,” said Langrehr.

Langrehr says he’s what they call a “frequent flyer” but he thinks this time will be different thanks to the program.

Kevin Cuffee helps inmates like Kenneth as the program supervisor. He says they take a grassroots approach. Every person who comes into the jail is screened for mental health issues, and from there, they get to work.

“My staff, what they’re doing is they’re starting to work with those individuals to get them connected to benefits, things of that nature, so when they leave here they’re ready to re-enter into the community and get the services they need,” said Cuffee.

Virginia Beach’s program has funding through fiscal year 2023. State leaders are working to take this program statewide in the next few years. Stolle says the sheriff’s association is set to push this as one of their top agenda items in the next legislative session.

“If you can completely reverse the numbers on recidivism in a year, I think it’s fantastic and I don’t think the commonwealth can afford not to do this,” said Stolle.