SARASOTA- Sarasota County is exploring new ways to fight jail overcrowding, the county is now looking at a pilot project that would create a secure 40 bed mental health facility.

 “We have a population in the jail that are substance abusers,” Col. Kurt Hoffman. “And some of them are folks that need of mental health treatment, and not you’re traditional inmate in the facility. So I think a program like that would greatly improve the ability to have some room in the jail for people that need to be in jail.”

Sarasota Sheriff’s Colonel Kurt Hoffman says right now there is a large population stuck in a cycle of incarceration.

“Where it’s minor traffic or minor misdemeanor offenses that get people arrested,” Hoffman said. “That gets them incarcerated, then they get a violation of probation, then they get wrapped up in the system. And without  getting the help for the substance abuse, the mental health treatment or some of the other things that afflict them they just kind of get caught in this endless cycle of being stuck in the system.”

City Manager Tom Barwin says that’s directly contributed to the chronic homeless problem, and called for a treatment facility earlier this year.

“We have found time and time and time again that they’re right back in the situation they were in and they return to jail,” Barwin said. “And it’s not unusal for this to happen 10,20, 30, 40, 50 times.”

Barwin says the city hopes to help the county get the pilot project right.

“We hope to be invited to the table to talk about it,” Barwin said. “Because we have such extensive experience in the city dealing with the chronic homeless challenge, which is so directly related to addiction and mental health challenges.”

The 40-bed pilot project is scheduled to last three years, and if successful could be expanded.

“Some people say this is not a true law enforcement function,” Col. Hoffman said. “But it’s a function of helping members of our society who need our help, and we’re probably the best place and best equipt to help those individuals and that’s what Sheriff’s Knight’s been proposing.”

The pilot project is expected to be passed along with the county budget later this year.