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PEACE has successfully pressed public officials to implement a
cross-section of solutions to some of the very serious community
problems plaguing Polk County. Below is an outline of some of
Increasing Access to Health Care
In 2004, PEACE and other allies got a ½ cent sales tax referendum passed that annually brings in around $32-38 million dollars; these funds would be available to serve the uninsured and under-insured citizens of Polk County for next 15 years. Since the inception, the tax has raised $378,025,727. The tax provides funds for organizations like Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, Angel Care Center, Polk Healthcare Plan, and other important community services like dental care, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, and specialty care. In 2005, PEACE received a commitment from the commissioners to open five primary care clinics. To date we have opened:
At their full capacity, each of the primary clinics pushed for by PEACE will serve over 25,000 people annually. In November 2016, PEACE and other allies successfully pushed for the renewal of the healthcare tax. The $32-38 million each year will continue to provide health care to thousands of people for the next 28 years.
In 2001, PEACE restored funding for the Jail Alternative to Substance Abuse (JASA) program, operated by Tri-County Human Services, after it was threatened to be cut. In 2003, PEACE was able to expand JASA and get funding for a program dedicated to women. JASA has provided services to over 4,500 men and women incarcerated in the Bartow and Frostproof jails. Almost 1,500 people have successfully completed the program in jail and 81% have remained substance free and arrest free one year following their release from jail. According to a study conducted by the Sheriff’s Office in 2012, 20% fewer re-arrests were documented for JASA graduates compared to other inmates in jail and the program saves millions of dollars in recidivism costs.
Reducing Youth Arrests for minor offenses
Since 2012, almost 1,000 Polk County children are getting an unnecessary criminal record every year for a first-time minor offense. For the rest of a child’s life, the arrest will be reported on all applications (schools, loans, military, scholarships, licensing boards, and employment) thereby diminishing their future prospects. At the 2012 Nehemiah Action, the Sheriff committed to lead an effort that would make Polk County a leader in diversion strategies. In 2013, the Sheriff’s office created a mandatory box on Affidavits where an officer can decide whether or not a child is eligible for Teen Court diversion. At our urging, in 2014, Teen Court removed their age limit, increasing the number of eligible children. In 2014, the Superintendent also collaborated with stakeholders to implement direct referrals in schools and created a new policy that only permits principals to make the final decision on whether or not a student should be arrested on school grounds. In 2015, the Polk County Court Administration funded and created a Teen Court database, removing another barrier to non-arrest diversion by ensuring law enforcement has full access to a child’s eligibility for a first-time diversion. At the 2017 Nehemiah Action, the State Attorney, Sheriff, and Public Defender agreed to create and sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will make non-arrest diversions available at the Juvenile Assessment Center. 7 out of 8 children are diverted after being brought to the Juvenile Assessment Center, but there was no separate database to use that would protect their records; the Memo of Understanding keeps children's records protected and allows for a true non-arrest diversion. Since PEACE started working with the Sheriff, arrests for misdemeanors have decreased by 80%.
Increasing Access to Drug Rehabilitation
In 2007, PEACE received a commitment from the majority of the county commissioners to develop a plan to create 100 new in-patient drug rehab beds for men and women. In 2011, PEACE got 50 in-patient drug rehab beds opened for men, operated by the Hope Now Transition Center, and in 2012, another 48 in-patient beds opened for women. A survey conducted by the Sheriff’s Department indicated that nearly 10,000 people being released from the Polk County jails every year would seek treatment, if it were available to them. Since the increase of available beds, there have been 102 graduates of the program and over 1,700 families served. The program has an 89% success rate of breaking the cycle of addiction and is nationally recognized. Hope Now was discontinued in 2016 but replaced by a similar program called New Beginnings in June 2016.
Other Issue Campaigns
At our urging, Polk Transit created two new bus stops on route 416 in Haines City in August 2013, including one at the health department clinic and one at Park View Village, which has over 800 transportation-disadvantaged residents; it had over 70,000 rides in the first quarter of operation. In addition, PEACE got Route 32/33 South Florida/ Carter Road converted to a flex service and Route 39 Bradley created as a Flex Service in January 2014.
In 2002, we got the Director of the Health Department to improve the treatment of non-English speakers in Health Department clinics.
In 2001, PEACE pressed the Lakeland Police Chief to increase patrols of 15 longtime “hot spots” in the Northwest Area of Lakeland where drugs and crime were particularly rampant.