Kendra Southward (left), a forensic specialist at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, discusses cognitive behavioral intervention with Leah Vail (right). Vail is the director of the Reinvestment Forensic Program, a program designed to help incarcerated individuals with mental, behavioral and substance abuse issues. (Raymond Boone/WUFT News)

Meridian Uses Grant to Help Inmates Transition Back Into Community

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Meridian Behavioral Healthcare is beginning to see progress two years after it was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help former inmates integrate back into their communities.

Meridian has accepted 836 referrals from the start of its Reinvestment Forensic Program. The Reinvestment Forensic Program is a program designed to provide those serving jail time in Alachua County with the chance to receive treatment for mental, behavioral and substance abuse issues and to allow them to re-enter a community that previously shunned them. By the end of the last quarter in June, 680 of those individuals graduated from the program.

Statistics released by Meridian also compared the amount of time spent in jail and the amount of time spent in the community for those who went through the program.

In April, the participants spent 313 total days in jail and 3,519 total days in the community. In May, they spent 260 days in jail and 3,076 days in the community. In June, the last month of the quarter, they spent 191 days in jail and 2,891 days in the community.

Although the number of days in the community decreased significantly, it’s important to note that there are a variety of outliers, ranging from the severity of the crime committed to the amount of people participating in the program at that specific point in time. These factors could also contribute to the decrease in days spent in jail.

Overall, the number of days spent in jail decreased significantly, which could potentially lead to the county saving money.

According to Stuart Wegener, diversion resource coordinator for Alachua County Court Services, the $1.2 million grant provides $400,000 annually over a three-year cycle.

That is minor when compared to what it saves the county from a financial and criminal standpoint.

According to a report by Reinvestment Forensic Program Director Leah Vail, the cost for clients’ incarcerations one year prior to their admission to the program totaled about $741,048. A year after their admission into the program, estimated costs totaled $275,352. In addition, psychiatric inmates cost upward of $1.1 million one year prior to their admission to the program, based on data collected from Miami-Dade County in 2006. Costs were cut by more than half, totaling $409,750 after a year of running the program.

The program saved between $465,696 and $693,000 in averted jail costs by reducing time spent in jail.

But for Vail, the Reinvestment Forensic Program is more than just money. It’s about second chances.

“It makes me feel good to see the individuals who are in treatment; kind of a before-and-after,” Vail said. “Just to take that moment to see them and their life getting better”.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Vail added.

After receiving proper care, these individuals are incorporated back into the community with the intent of becoming productive members of society.

“We’re getting people safely out of the jail that have mental health issues and getting them back to being productive in the community,” said Alan Paulin, the vice president of outpatient and recovery services at Meridian.

About Raymond Boone

Raymond is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at news@wuft.org or 352-392-6397.

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