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PEACE brings stakeholders together and raises community support to address the root cause of problems in Polk County. By annually focusing on a specific problem to tackle, we can work together to make our county safer, healthier, and more educated.
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Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment
Many residents of Polk County lacked access to basic health care and dental care. Over 120,000 people in Polk County are uninsured or under-insured and use the emergency rooms as their primary care. PEACE worked to get the half-cent sales tax on the ballot in 2004 which brings in $30-35 million each year to serve the indigent and working poor. PEACE worked with stakeholders to open 5 primary care clinics across the county to prevent unnecessary emergency room visits by providing needed preventative care. By 2019, these clinics will serve over 25,000 patients annually!
Reducing Youth Arrests
On average, residents in Polk County have to wait over 3 months to see a psychiatrist. As a result, hundreds of people are repeatedly hospitalized for a mental health crisis every year. PEACE wants to increase access to evidence-based programs that prevent this vicious, and expensive, cycle. Since PEACE began working on this issue, $1,350,000 has been allocated towards outpatient mental health services to serve those who normally wouldn't be able to afford care.
We researched solutions that worked and learned that the best way to solve this problem was to use non-arrest diversion programs, which gives children consequences for poor choices but not criminal records. For the rest of a child’s life, an arrest will be reported on all applications (military, college scholarships, licensing boards, job applications, etc.), even if the child is found “not guilty.” By using non-arrest diversions, children are far less likely to be re-arrested or experience difficulties later on in life. PEACE got a commitment at our 2017 Action to implement non-arrest diversions at the Juvenile Assessment Center for the first time. From June 2017 to May 2018, there have been 920 children diverted and went from a 0% diversion rate to an 80% diversion rate in 2018.
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We first began working on youth arrests back in 2011. We heard horror stories of children getting arrested for very minor offenses. A 6-year-old threw an eraser and got arrested for battery. A child who threw a paper cup at a car got arrested for launching a missile. Two siblings fighting over an iPad were arrested for domestic violence.
During our research, we learned that almost 1,000 children in Polk County were being arrested every year and criminalized for a first-time minor offense.
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