CJMHSAG (Criminal Justice, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Grant) is a grant that Meridian Behavioral Healthcare receives from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). The grant is dedicated for services in Alachua County and part of a statewide program known as the CJMHSAG Reinvestment Grant Program. The purposes of this grant are to help counties plan, implement, or expand initiatives that increase public safety, avert increased spending on criminal and juvenile justice systems, and improve the accessibility and effectiveness of treatment services for adults and juveniles who have a mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder and who are in, or at risk of entering, the criminal justice system.
The grant has allowed a collaborative partnership between key stakeholders such as Alachua County and its Department of Court Services, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, the 8th Judicial Circuit of Florida, and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. This partnership has created an innovative, local continuum of services for those in the criminal justice system in need of mental health treatment and/or substance abuse treatment. This array of services includes, among others, case management, emergency housing, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, transportation vouchers, access to peer specialists, benefits coordination, and representation in court. The services are provided based on the specialized needs of each client and have been widely successful. The grant has also allowed Alachua County to invest more into mental health training for law enforcement and other criminal justice personnel. The overall mission of the CJMHSAG Reinvestment Grant program in Alachua County is to keep people from being incarcerated or placed into our state hospitals enabling them to focus on recovery, while ensuring that community safety is not compromised.
Referrals and Partnerships
Referrals to the Alachua CJMHSAG Reinvestment Grant program are made by Court Services’ Centralized Screening Team, internal staff at the Alachua County Jail, Meridian, private defense attorneys, family members, and the Grant Program’s Benefits Coordinator. After a referral to the program is received, the client is evaluated by Meridian Behavioral Healthcare’s Forensic Diversion Program Director. When the client is accepted into the program, his or her specialized needs are assessed. Then, the client is connected with the available resources in order to assist in his or her recovery. The resources are all free of charge to program participants in order to enhance the best recovery prospects for each one.
The services leveraged under the CJMHSAG Reinvestment Grant are made possible through partnerships throughout the community. These complete organizational members of this partnership includes Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Alachua County Court Services, the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida, the Office of the State Attorney (8th Judicial Circuit), the Office of the Public Defender (8th Judicial Circuit), the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, the Gainesville Police Department, Bradford County, the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office, NAMI Gainesville, the Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition, and the North Central Florida Alliance for the Homeless and Hungry.
The following provides a visual comparison of three of the twenty-one current CJMHSAG Reinvestment Grant programs now operational around the State of Florida.
Miami-Dade County is often regarded as administering programs which are considered a national and state model for mental health treatment for those in the criminal justice system. Miami-Dade County has been investing in serious mental health initiatives for its criminal justice-involved residents since 2000, through the leadership of Judge Steve Leifman of the 11th Judicial Circuit.
Leon County received a CJMHSAG Implementation Grant from the Florida Department of Children and Families in 2008 and has continued to receive such support.
Clients Served and Effectiveness
From April 1st to December 31st, 2017, there were a total of 144 clients who were actively participating in the Alachua CJHMSAG Reinvestment Grant program. The clients served are those in the community who are struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders and are involved with, or at risk of being involved with, the criminal justice system. The program also focuses on addressing homelessness to better serve the whole community. Since the first grant cycle, Alachua County’s CJMHSAG Reinvestment Grant program has been highly successful. The latest program evaluation data reveals that more than 70% of those discharged from the program were successful. There has also been a 92% decrease in the number of arrests for program clients compared to one year prior to program admission. The extension of Mental Health Training to local law enforcement and stakeholder agencies’ staff has also been a CJMHSAG Reinvestment Grant program priority for Alachua County. As of December 31st, 2017, 33 law enforcement officers have been trained in Crisis Intervention Training, and 59 criminal justice professionals have been trained in Mental Health First Aid. The program focuses on these and other evidence-based practices to ensure a high level of achievement in state-of-the-art training for those who work directly with our communities’ residents facing mental illness and/or substance abuse. Providing these services for clients and training for criminal justice personnel helps achieve the important goal of the grant program of diverting those with mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, and co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders away from the criminal justice system toward recovery and more productive lives in the community.
Client Success Stories
The following stories have been provided by Meridian Behavioral Healthcare’s Forensic Diversion Team:
L.J. was released from jail many years ago as Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity on an order of conditional release. During the time of the incident, her husband of more than 20 years passed away and she became very depressed. She had been totally reliant on him and struggling with life itself. We assisted her with her reentry using supportive housing funding for Budget Inn. She faced challenges towards independence such as an inability to ride the bus due to her anxiety and years of dependence on her husband. With the assistance of her Forensic Specialist and the team, she obtained independence for more than a year. Most recently, she sent Court Services a repayment check of $1400 for the housing funding we used to help her.
Last month, several Alachua County CJMHSAG staff members went to court to testify about a client’s progress in treatment and about the program in general. It was an open plea trial with an established harsh sentencing judge. The court’s opening line was, “I never sentence community control probation, I believe in prison.” Our client was facing 11 years in prison because of her criminal history. The defense attorney proposed a downward departure because of her mental illness; she has a severe trauma history. She has been “crime free” in the community for more than five years until the most recent charge of shoplifting. It was an emotional two hour trial, but in the end she was granted her downward departure with 3 years of community control probation and court ordered to the program.
J.D. is a female veteran who suffers from Bipolar Disorder. She describes how the disorder has “taken her personality hostage.” In 2000, she experienced a manic episode which resulted in criminal charges of Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer and Resisting Arrest with Violence. The resulting outcome of these criminal charges was a verdict of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. She was initially hospitalized but was able to be released on a Conditional Release. She continued to struggle, having several hospitalizations and violations of her conditional release due to her severe manic episodes for about 10 years. Since 2012, she has not had any destabilizing symptoms with the care of her treatment and support teams. In March 2015, she was granted a successful termination of her Conditional Release, which released her from any court jurisdiction.