When Scott Salley talks about his job as the chief of corrections for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, he gestures to a 3-foot long cypress stick leaning in one corner of his office. It’s an unhappy relic of an earlier time in Collier County corrections, but Salley keeps it around for that very reason.
This, he explains, is how we used to treat inmates. And this is how we should never treat them again.
“It reminds me that we’re here to protect and serve,” Salley says.
In his personal and professional life, Salley has devoted himself to that mission.
He first joined the sheriff’s office as a volunteer auxiliary patrol deputy in 1981. It was a non-paying post, but he stayed in it for 13 years, finally coming on as a full-time deputy in 1994. Then, six years ago, he was tapped as corrections chief. Along the way, he has earned numerous awards, held a lengthy list of local leadership spots and trained other law enforcement officers at home and overseas.
Most recently, his colleagues nominated Salley for the 2011 American Jail Association’s “Jail Administrator of the Year” Award.
On March 24, Salley will be honored in Naples by national addiction treatment center Hazelden for his work in the prevention and treatment of addictions. Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. will be the keynote speaker at the event.
In their recommendation letters for the Jail Administrator of the Year Award, Salley’s peers often praise him for his dedication, compassion and sense of humor. One letter even describes him as an “icon.”
They also note his profound modesty when it comes to extolling his own virtues. It’s not an exaggeration: When Salley, a sixth-generation Floridian, heard Hazelden planned to honor him, he thought someone was playing a prank on him.
Why would they honor him for doing what he’s supposed to do, he wondered?
“To me, I do what is expected of me,” Salley says. “I’m a servant of the community.”
But when Salley speaks about his commitment to helping those with addictions and mental illnesses, it quickly becomes clear that his devotion is serious — and intimate. Nine years ago, his son died of a prescription drug overdose. It’s not an easy subject for him to discuss, but it has given him a unique and emotional understanding of the damage done by substance abuse.
He likens addicts to members of a lost tribe, alone and adrift. They’re also a group of people that are often shunted to the side.
“It’s one of those things we push off,” he says. “Someone else will take care of it.”
In Salley’s case, he has become that someone else. In the jail, he will stop and talk with the inmates and find out why they’re serving time, he says. Sometimes, the conversations turn to the daily internal workings of the facility, and that’s helpful too, he explains. It’s good to hear if the food needs improving, Salley says, or if people have complaints about the quality of the soap.
“You hear all this and you have to sift through it and you just may hear something that’s a problem,” he says.
Still, his ultimate aim as corrections chief is finding ways to prevent inmates from returning to the jail. Since mental illness and substance abuse often play a part in the recidivism rate, he believes it’s important to work with local agencies and organizations such as St. Matthew’s House, the David Lawrence Center and Hazelden to give departing inmates an opportunity to find alternatives to their old, unhealthy behaviors.
Outside his work at the jail, Salley has also cultivated a reputation as someone who can be turned to for help in a substance abuse crisis. His post as the president of the Drug Free Collier initiative gives him higher community profile, but he says it’s often simply by word-of-mouth that people find him.
Frequently, those people are parents who are struggling with a child who is fighting an addiction. When they call him, they usually begin by telling him that they have never met, that they don’t know each other.
But really, it’s as if they do.
It’s as if they already belong to the same fraternity, he says.
“They’re not alone, and they need support.”
If you go
What: Community luncheon honoring CCSO Chief of Corrections Scott Salley, and with actor Louis Gossett, Jr. as keynote speaker. Proceeds will benefit
Patient Aid at Hazelden in Naples
When: March 24
Where: Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club
Admission and information: Tickets are $100 per person by calling (651) 213-4429