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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
There are still many in our community who lack access to basic health care and dental care. Over 120,000 people in Polk County are uninsured or under-insured, but there are areas of the county with a higher need; Haines City has one of the highest percentages of uninsured residents --- over 10,000 individuals without health insurance. PEACE worked with stakeholders to open a primary care clinic that serves the indigent and prevents emergency room visits by provided needed preventative care. In April 2017, they began serving patients!
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, $450,000 is allocated every year to 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. Since PEACE began working on this issue, school-based arrests have decreased by 47% and overall arrests have decreased by 25%!
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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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