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In a Surprising Shift, County Commission Finds Money for 2 Jail-Diversion Programs After All

| September 5, 2013

Flagler County commissioners found a way to keep a few more would-be inmates out of jail. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County commissioners found a way to keep a few more would-be inmates out of jail. (© FlaglerLive)

What started as the first of two routine hearing at which the Flagler County Commission was to adopt its tax rate for next year—the sort of hearing that rarely draws much attendance or reveals new information—turned into a renewed debate on two jail-diversion programs: a $100,000 pre-trial release initiative the county had decided last month not to start, and a successful, state-supported $151,000 jail-diversion program that’s been in effect for three years in Flagler, but that the state will no longer pay for.

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When it was over 45 minutes later, a unanimous commission had agreed to take on both programs. It reversed its opposition to the pre-trial release program, and it assumed responsibility for the jail-diversion program. Both initiatives would be scaled back, however. The county will put up $100,000 for the mental-health jail-diversion program, and just $25,000 for the pre-trial release program.

“These are some dollars that we went searching for, actually for the pre-trial program, and then this came up to us,” Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin said, referring to the mental health program, “and for those who said this is a higher-priority program, everyone involved agreed with that.” He added: “Everything that is cut is staying cut.”

The money for the mental health program had been earmarked for capital spending on new radios. Craig Coffey, the county administrator, said that capital spending will be shifted. Sales tax revenue will cover it instead, freeing the general fund dollars for the diversion program.

The now $60,000 pre-trial release program will be paid for in part, Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre said, with “about $35,000 that goes into a fund that is paid by our inmates for food and for lodging, that is a recurring amount of dollars we receive every year.” The program would employ one person full time and one part-timer, instead of two full-timers.

What convinced the commission to pivot on both programs was a parade of advocates who, one after the other, implored commissioners to reverse course, though the mental health program had far more advocates than the pre-trial release program did. The latter drew more opponents than advocates.

“I do believe that this is an issue not only of jail overcrowding but of fundamental justice,” Manfre said of pre-trial release. “This is a tried and true program, this is not an experiment, we will reduce bodies in our jail.”

Pre-trial release allows suspected criminals who qualify to be released from jail, just as they would if they were to post bond, but under the supervision of a so-called pre-trial “facilitator.” The supervision is similar to court supervision, as if the suspect were already on probation, and straying from the program’s requirements could result in stiffer penalties than those that led the individual into the program in the first place. But it’s the trade-off for a certain benefit: Many suspects cannot afford to post bond and end up remaining in jail as their case is processed. The pre-trial release program is designed to avoid that possibility.

It’s costly, Ed Fuller, a Palm Coast resident, told county commissioners. But he cited another cost. “It is the human cost,” Fuller said, “that of an individual languishing in jail because he can’t afford bail. We can do better than that. It is not a crime to be poor, but it is a travesty to be incarcerated because you’re indigent and can’t afford bail. I respectfully implore you to find a way to adopt this program.”

An insurer who underwrites bail bonds said he opposed the diversionary program, citing Flagler County’s incarceration rate—the lowest in the state, by population, achieved without a pre-trial diversionary program. (The industry, of course, makes money on bail.) Bail, he said, is a more effective way to compel a defendant to appear for a court date. “If the service is being provided,” he asked, “why would there be a need to use taxpayer money to fund something that the commercial industry is already taking care of?”

Then Kip Miller, the Daytona Beach defense attorney and Flagler Beach resident, spoke “absolutely against pre-trial services.”

Kip Miller

Kip Miller

Miller explained: “If pre-trial services comes into place, all of a sudden, that individual will be under supervision by the court system, and is already being punished by the court system for a crime they have not been found guilty in a court of law. So it’s supervision, essentially, probation, and that probation also comes with conditions like anger-management counseling, substance abuse counseling, all these things they must comply with while on pre-trial services. And the vast majority of these people fail, and all of a sudden another warrant will be issued for that person’s arrest for the initial charge, and they’re back into the jail with a higher bond or no bond, and ultimately you’re going to have more people in jail for violation of pre-trial release than those posting bond or released on their own recognizance initially. Pre-trial release is like dangling a carrot in front of a defendant: ‘hey, by the way, you can post a bond for $500 on a nominal offense, or be supervised.’ But they don’t know what the supervision entails. And all of a sudden they have to report weekly, do all those conditions on matters on which they ultimately may be acquitted or found not guilty, or the charges are dropped, and ultimately these people are being punished for a crime they did not commit or were not found guilty of in a court of law.” The program, he said, is not needed in Flagler.

Peyton Quarles, another Daytona Beach lawyer, echoed that perspective, describing pre-trial release as well-intentioned but likely to keep growing “like kudzu.”

“If there’s a decision between the money that’s going to be used for the mental health-diversion in jail program versus pre-trial services,” Quarles said, “the mental health diversion program, the money would be much better spent on that program.”

As it turned out, the commission avoided having to make the choice by somewhat embracing both, even though it had not debated the mental-health program previously. At least not openly.

Chet Bell, the CEO at Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare—which provides addiction recovery and mental health programs in Flagler and three other counties—explained the three-year-old jail diversion program. The program allows people with mental health issues who would have otherwise gone to jail for offenses committed because of their illness, to stay out of the supervision of police, jail or hospitals, and instead be under the supervision of clinical staff while receiving treatment and follow-up care. Currently the program has 25 clients, 18 of them in the program for more than a year.

Three appeared before the commission, essentially hat in hand and heart on sleeve.

“They come by about once a week or twice a week, depending on my needs, they refill my medication, sit down with me, talk, what’s going on in my life, anything they can help me with,” Mitchel McNitt, 22, said. With the program’s help he’s been able to make his way out of probation, paying his fees, getting job references, staying out of trouble for long stretches.

Justin Grubbs, 26, spoke of being in the program as well, and how “it has opened my eyes to what’s really going on with me.” (He was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.) He broke down when he described how, “if it wasn’t for them, I’d be lost.”

But it was Linda Murphy of Palm Coast, a secretary of National Alliance on Mental Illness, who moved her audience especially: “What you haven’t heard from are the parents, and I represent the parents,” Murphy said.  “I’m the parent of someone who has mental illness, schizophrenia, and he was in your jail several times. The jail diversion program was not available to him at the time but I can tell you what it does for family members. The peace of mind that a family has when their loved one is stable and on their medication just can’t even be, you can’t put a price tag on it. The increase in self-esteem that an individual has when they’ve been able to stay out of jail, off the street, and when they’re reunited with their loved ones, because that doesn’t happen when they go off to jail. They’re taken away from their loved ones. The relief felt by a family or a landlord when they have a professional to talk to about the problems that affect their loved ones or their tenant on a daily basis: this team offers that. The relief felt by having someone else take charge of the medication issues, that used to be the biggest fight with my son, was his medication, and having somebody else there from the team to supply that medication and talk to them about it makes so much difference.”

She went on describing many other fulfilling aspects of the program for its clients and their families.

“I don’t think,” County Commissioner Frank Meeker, who revels in bashing government programs, said,  “that I’ve ever heard of a program that was funded by the public of government service that provides as much benefit as what I just heard tonight. To have this many people come forward and talk individually about the impacts that the spending of a relatively small amount of money has had on their lives is very impressive to me.”

“So what you’re saying is coming from the city to the county it has a therapeutic value for you?” Commissioner George Hanns asked the former Palm Coast City Council member. Palm Coast doesn’t deal in that sort of program, Meeker said.

There was little opposition to either programs from commissioners. Brabara Revels wanted to ensure that overhead costs would be cut. And Commissioner Charlie Ericksen noted the odd timing of both programs’ resurrections.

“I just wish we’d heard that earlier than waiting for this particular meeting,” Ericksen said.

The commission then went on to approve its tax rate for next year, in the first of two such votes.

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23 Responses for “In a Surprising Shift, County Commission Finds Money for 2 Jail-Diversion Programs After All”

  1. John Adams says:

    Funny how the politicians just ‘find’ money. Did they find what they were looking for in your pockets?

  2. Sherry Epley says:

    Mental health services are very badly needed in our state. It would be absolutely wonderful if those services were more widely available BEFORE anyone commits a crime, but at least this is a drop in the rather empty bucket.

  3. It's just money---Our money says:

    If Coffey can use capital money set aside for radios, were the radios really even needed? This man could cut more from his own budget if the Commission really knew of all his sneaky schemes. The commissioners need to see it is long over due for this administrator to be replaced!

  4. Robert says:

    Oh by the way, the county commision voted (tentatively) to raise real estate property taxes by about 13%.

    Does the 13% help finance the purchase of a broken down water treatment plant and does it help turn a profit for a group of investors who were stuck with a dilapidated, mostly useless, vacant hospital?

  5. Gia says:

    It’s a completely waist of $$$. These kind of “programs” were in use & abandoned in other state.

  6. confidential says:

    I totally agree with the pretrial release as well requested by county judge Millisa Moore Sten and favored by our Sheriff Jim Manfre. Is not fair that only the poor remain in jail for a long time until the trial day can is assigned.
    We are not safer because the one’s that can afford it, pay bail and are let out until trial date.
    By leaving the poor in jail for not affording their bails we just create an enormous burden for them and families as if they have a job will loose it as well and the sustain for their spouses, children etc. That will generate more reasons for these poor jailed individuals to recurred in more crime to be able to put food in the table after loosing their incomes. Imagine the injustice if on their trial date, are found innocent?
    Or only the poor are not supposed to be covered by:” Innocent Until Proven Guilty?”
    Regarding the 100,000 of our taxes for Menthal Health issues is also a great need for that! Lets keep in mind that for generations our young men and women have been exposed to the horrors of so many foreign wars in those battle fields and come home with the permanent effects of such a traumatic exposure and no only affects them but their families and also their descendants. Human behavior is not different that of any other animals and plants and whether for better or worse automatically adapts to a harsh environment “to survive” . Look as an example a dog exposed to violence will be a dangerous animal thru adaptation with very unusual behavior. All living things including plants adapt to their surrounding environments to survive! We are just one of those living things and the ones that have our good mental health should provide thru our taxes for the one’s that don’t, if we care enough for our own safety. We sure already pay for that so please allocate it!!

  7. confidential says:

    @Robert I hope you are incorrect…because the 13% tax increase will signify to me $336.70 more a year hard to afford…and sure we need to go to that County Commission budget approval meeting.
    Of course the Plantation Utility, the Old Hospital and then stick it to us and a county with over 10% unemployment that negatively affects all our businesses and families.
    Maybe now the Flagler Taxpayers will go to that meeting to oppose that high increase.

  8. My Daily Rant says:

    If they commited a crime they should do the time.Stop pampering criminals

  9. Ray Thorne says:

    I’m trying to understand this program and its cost. I may show ignorance here because I really do not know.. but there is “first appearance”. Now can’t these people deemed non violent be let out at that time to face trial at a later date?

    • Nancy N. says:

      They can only be let out with bail…and not everyone can afford bail, which can run into 10’s of thousands of dollars. Even if you put up only 10% in cash, you need assets to put up against the rest of the total with a bondsman, and if you don’t own anything more than a crappy car…you have nothing to use.

      • Ray Thorne says:

        thats correct but first appearance is usually the next morning. So again, why can’t a judge decide then to let a person out who is deemed non violent? If a person has a bail that runs tens of thousands they probably should be staying in jail.

        • Nancy N. says:

          The entire point of the program is that people shouldn’t receive different treatment for being rich or poor. They shouldn’t have to stay in jail just because they are poor when someone with more money could get out. This attempts to provide financial equality to the system.

          I can tell you from experience that bail can run tens of thousands of dollars for a first offense traffic offense.

          You’re misunderstanding the purpose of first appearance. This is about giving the judge at first appearance another option to bond. Arrestees are never let out without bail even on non-violent offenses. Judges don’t just say “bye, see you at trial.” Bail may be set low, but who has even an extra couple thousand dollars lying around?

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am for these kinds of programs IF they are planned for, and then implemented, correctly. PLEASE do not do a half-ass job of it! Half-ass treatment can be worse, sometimes , than no treatment at all, especially as it applies to unstable people with anti-social tendencies and histories of drug and/or alcohol abuse, who are inadequately supervised.

  11. Sherry Epley says:

    Some actual data from “Mother Jones”. . . mental health treatment actually saves lives AND tax payers money:

    “Approximately 10 percent of US homicides are committed by untreated severely mentally ill people.

    Chances that a perpetrator of a mass shooting displayed signs of mental illness prior to the crime: 1 in 2

    Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails more than quadrupled to 1,264,300.

    Since 2006, mental-illness rates in some county jails have increased by another 50 percent.

    For every $2,000 to $3,000 per year spent on treating the mentally ill, $50,000 is saved on incarceration costs.

    Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year.

    In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2010, there was one psychiatric bed for every 7,100 Americans—the same ratio as in 1850”.

  12. Facts says:

    When is mental health treatment going to be provided to those as Coffey and Landon who run this county?

    If those that committed crimes were actually punished and not pampered there would not be so many repeat offenders.

    Arrests, tickets etc. are issued to generate revenue regardless if your poor or not. Do you get exempt from court costs, paying traffic tickets, paying probation fees if your poor? Hell no!

    What is the percentage of people that are arrested that are determined to be innocent?

    • Nancy N. says:

      “What is the percentage of people that are arrested that are determined to be innocent? ”

      It doesn’t matter. EVERY SINGLE PERSON arrested is constitutionally assumed to be innocent UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Even if the majority are convicted, that doesn’t give you the right to treat them like you assume they are guilty. That’s what we have a legal process to determine.

      Try spending a little time in our jail or a state prison and see how you like the inedible food, malpractice suit worthy medical care, lack of A/C, back breaking labor, rampant skin diseases and pests and epidemics, and constant threat of physical and even sexual attack – and then come back and tell me how “pampered” you feel.

      You know why there are so many repeat offenders? Because people like you are more interested in making criminals’ life hell than in giving them the mental health, educational, and job training services necessary to actually rehabilitate them.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I am not saying that programs like these are not good ideas but what do you say to people (and their families) who are knocking their heads against a brick wall, trying to get help for themselves and their family members who have NOT committed crimes? “Sorry…steal something from somebody or try to rob a bank and maybe we’ll get you some help?” This is a perfect example of why PREVENTION IS AT LEAST AS IMPORTANT AS PUNISHMENT!

  14. Ben Dover says:

    Hope the thieving , lying crooks left enough beds for themselves , cause all this stealing of funds and dirty deals with contractors and rigging red light cams is one day catch up to these low lifes , I just pray I`m here to see it , so tired of all the dirty politicians , this group isthe worst bring in 3 times as many red light cams then Los Angeles has claiming safety issues, then turn around and start selling booze in the park , such hypocritical liars too , their day will come

  15. Stop Wasting Tax Dollars says:

    Why in the world is a county strapped for cash putting money into a pretrial release program that has been proven time and time again by both independent and government research to be the least effective for of pretrial release…and therefore the worst method of ensuring accountability and maintaining public safety. There is already a privately funded solution called commercial bail, that costs the county $0, raises revenue through premium taxes and forfeiture payments, and that has been proven to be the most effective way to get defendants to court. If you listen closely you can literally hear the tax dollars being flushed down the toilet.

    • Tax Payer says:

      Build more jails is the answer. Hire more jailers. Make the jails worst than living outside so they won’t want to come back. Rehab doe’s not work.

  16. Sherry Epley says:

    How very sad that some of those who comment here carry the poisonous burden of such hatred towards other human beings. What does that say about their own hearts and souls?

    Where is the conclusive evidence that mental health care and rehabilitation does not work?

    Or, is it that those who cry out again and again for others to be tortured are the most tortured of all?

  17. Wave rider says:

    Welcome to the real world where life isn’t all touchy freely. Face realty and get out of your fantasy world. People on here speak from experience, and are fed up with ignorant people and the decisions they make that we pay for.

  18. aaronallen832 says:

    When you arrested, you have to pay bail before you can get out of there. There are a various agent they are here to help you. You should contact them. It is a hard work to survive in jail. jail is rally very bore. If you want to get out of jail then you can meet agent . They have a best solution for your bail. If you have no more money then you can come to agent service.

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