Orange-Osceola state attorney’s mental health initiatives aim to improve community

Monique Worrell hopes program will make communities safer

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell and veteran Assistant State Attorne Joanna Sandstrom head the new mental health unit. (Orange-Osceola State Attorney)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The new unit Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell ushered in last year to address mental health in the criminal justice system is still going strong.

Worrell, alongside veteran Assistant State Attorney Joanna Sandstrom, is trying to help the people society often sees slip “through the cracks.”

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“Far too long, the criminal justice system has kind of run over mental health issues, people who had mental health concerns and people who needed to be treated and/or medicated and hadn’t been,” Deputy Chief Assistant State Attorney Shana Manuel said in a video statement issued Tuesday.

Manuel said that in reading through probable cause affidavits and cases, the team found mental health concerns that had not been addressed either in the person’s life or during their contact with law enforcement officials.

“Some mental health touches so many different aspects of different charges,” Manuel said in the video release.

Sandstrom, who was hired as director of the unit in October 2021, supervises criminal cases where the accused has a history of mental health problems.

“We can have one centralized location where individuals like that can be handled by this office,” said Sandstrom, of dealing with cases where individuals are not guilty by reason of insanity, mental illness, intellectual disability or autism.

Sandstrom said these initiatives are imperative to improving the community.

“I think the most important thing we need to realize is the people (who) we’re dealing with, the people (who) are charged with crimes, are still human beings and that they deserve respect and that they need the help and assistance in order to better their lives,” Sandstrom said.