An Alachua County Budget Decision That Everyone Seems to Agree On...
Alachua County Commissioners and Sheriff Sadie Darnell are distinctly at odds over her request for an extra half million dollars for the Sheriff's Office budget, but the two sides are in full agreement on something else.
Alachua County has been focusing on jail diversion programs since the late nineties. Over the years, millions of federal, state and local dollars have gone toward keeping those with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems out of jail and in treatment. Supporters said that especially in tough economic times, this is a case where doing the right thing also saves money.
Dr. Maggie Labarta, President and CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare (Alachua County's main mental healthcare provider) said, "It's great to be able to deliver a win-win."
She said, moving non-violent offenders with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems out of jail and into alternate programs, saves money while addressing why they ended up there in the first place. She said, "We reduce the census at the jail by roughly 37 inmates a day, just by having these services."
Labarta said that a $900,000 federal grant will continue relieving issues at the jail, by allowing the county to keep 12 people in the Meridian facility full-time for treatment.
Justin Feussner says that after going in and out of the correctional system and being addicted to drugs and alchohol for most of his life, this program has broken the cycle. He said, "It's basically like being reborn...my family, my friends, even my probation officer trust me now."
Fuessner has been clean since starting the program and success stories like his, are part of why the board of commissioners have decided to match a state grant of $250,000 a year for three years, with $166,500 a year for three years. Other local agencies, like the Sheriff's Office and Court Services, will also contribute in order to continue funding and expanding the jail diversion programs.
Jim Santangelo, Director of Court Services said, "When it comes down to the nitty, gritty, there's a common ground for all the stakeholders."
It's an example of what unites in a time when much attention is focused on what divides.
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