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Alachua County grabs $700K+ federal grant for mental health/jail diversion programs

Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 11:17 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -With more than $700-thousand federal grant at their disposal, the Alachua County Justice for Mental Health Collaboration program is moving a step forward to keep people with mental health issues out of jail and to a place where they can get help.

“One of our primary pushes is to do more diversion, before jail,” said David Johnson, the JMHCP program director. “And always with the filter of public safety so if an individual is violent, is dangerous outside of mental illness or even inside of mental illness sometimes jail is the right place but is it always? Probably not.”

The program got an initial grant in 2017 of nearly $150-thousand federal dollars to analyze mental health and the criminal justice system in the area. This second allotment of $729,639 is to build upon partnerships, programs and research from the past three years.

“That’s what we want to do and that’s where the collaboration actually shines,” added Johnson.

Collaboration with health care such as Meridian Behavioral Health, UF Health Shands and North Florida Regional Medical center; collaboration with law enforcement like the Sheriff’s Office, University of Florida police and the Gainesville Police department.

“Any kind of funding source that we can find to help with this is definitely welcome,” said GPD Chief Inspector Jorge Campos.

Mental health co-respondent programs aren’t new within GPD but data collected from partnering law enforcement agencies is meant to keep the mentally ill out of the jail as well as grow the community policing effort.

“But these zone officers know who these people are as well,” added Campos. “And if they know or see that something is happening or their living condition changed or there’s something that caused them to start utilizing our services more they can reach out ahead of time and get the co-responder unit to come pay them a visit and figure out how to get them to a more stable environment.”

In Johnson’s eyes, the future of the program is an increase in clinician co-respondent teams for full coverage across Alachua county, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

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