Panola County sheriff creates new mental health deputy position

Sheriff: ‘It’s not necessarily criminal when they go into crisis’
The Panola County Sheriff's Office is putting a new focus on mental health with a new position.
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 6:48 PM CST
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CARTHAGE, Texas (KLTV) - Rural communities are not immune to the mental health crisis. Smaller counties, like Panola County, deal with many of the same issues faced in more populated counties.

And for that reason, the Panola County Sheriff’s Office is putting a new focus on mental health with a new position.

“It is certainly a major topic in enforcement,” Sheriff Cutter Clinton said. “It is also a point of discussion and topic with our state legislators.”

The mental health responsibility often falls on the shoulders of law enforcement, especially in rural areas, Clinton said.

“Everybody’s pretty much on the same page with the fact that jails have been the mental health treatment facilities but they’re really not,” Clinton said.

In an effort to tackle mental illness in Panola County, Clinton recently promoted Deputy Scott Jones to the position of mental health deputy.

“It’s not necessarily criminal when they go into crisis or when they get involved in certain situations in which the sheriff’s office becomes involved,” Clinton said. “But decriminalizing the mental health issues of our society is the trend and the expectation that we’re held to.”

Deputy Jones’ responsibilities include establishing a rapport with the mentally ill and their families. He’ll also be called on when the sheriff’s office or jail encounters someone with a mental health issue and can help transport people to treatment facilities. It just so happened that’s what Jones was doing when we visited the sheriff’s office on Monday morning.

“I had a certain female that I had to get to a facility this morning. Basically, I went from here in Carthage and transported her to the Glen Oaks facility up in Greenville, Texas, which is one of the facilities that we use,” Jones said.

Jones has already been certified to work with the mentally ill and is also working with agencies providing mental health services like Community Healthcore in Carthage.

Clinton says the focus on mental health will by no means excuse criminal acts but instead protect the civil liberties of the mentally ill.

“Just to make sure that we’re doing right by the mentally ill, by the families, by our own office, and being a proper steward of our resources, a mental health deputy became necessary,” he said.