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A model facility

One thing that has become clear in recent years, as reports pile up of the custodial deaths of correctional inmates whose greatest crimes were their mental challenges, is that the nation’s correctional facilities are not the best places to house petty criminals whose triggers were their underlying emotional problems.

Correctional facilities should be places where society sends criminals for punishment and rehabilitation. They should not be the default option for housing people whose mental faculties are impaired to an extent that rehabilitation is not a reasonable expectation.

But Virginia has been slow to provide alternatives to the situation, and jails have, in fact, become repositories for many of those whom society can find no other place to house safely.

The Western Tidewater Community Services Board will soon open a new residential health facility that will help ease the burden.

Tidewater Cove will open in November in the location of the former Tabernacle Gardens assisted living facility on East Washington Street. The facility was purchased by the WTCSB in May and has undergone extensive renovations since that time in an effort to make it suitable for its future residents.

Dr. Jack Barber, interim commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services said the Hampton Roads region has a high number of people sent from jail to Eastern State hospital and a number of people in hospitals who no longer need to be there for medical ailments.

Tidewater Cove will provide a desperately needed alternative for those patients.

The facility will offer its residents a dining room, a day room and a renovated gazebo and courtyard with patio seating, all designed to make its residents feel at home when they’re there.

Removing those patients from the institutional setting will make it easier for them to receive effective treatment for their underlying conditions, and the upgrades to the facility will instill a sense of pride in them that they never could have received within an institutional setting.

The facility has been licensed for 65 beds, and given the widespread nature of the problem, there’s little doubt that those beds will fill quickly and remain full.

“It just relieves a lot of pressure for families and individuals that need care,” said Azeez Felder, Suffolk’s director of social services.

We wish the folks who will work there much success with their residents, and we hope that Tidewater Cove will become a model for how to handle the thorny problem of housing and treating people with behavioral and emotional issues.