Jail Diversion Florida's Rural Communities

January 28, 2019

Two million people with mental illness are booked into jails each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Once in jail, many do not receive the treatment they need and their condition gets worse, not better. Rural areas have specific challenges with diverting individuals with mental illnesses from jails. These challenges stem from a strong urban bias of many state and federally funded programs, difficulty attracting qualified and dedicated personnel to rural areas, and the nature of rural areas. 

 However, some aspects of rural life contribute to improved jail diversion including the tendency for neighborly bonding, supportive family, and community connection.  Many rural jails lack funding for specialized training or care for individuals with mental illnesses in their jails. 

At the Florida Rural Health Association 25th Annual Rural Health Educational Summit, Leah Vail Compton with the Department of Children and Families and Jan Gibson with Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, will discuss the specialized solutions needed for each unique rural criminal justice system and the creative initiatives currently taking place in Florida. They will also discuss the strengths of our rural counties including their cohesive nature which would be threatened if urban solutions were simply just transplanted to rural communities. 

 About the speakers:

Jan is the Lead Forensic Specialist and provides direct forensic mental health services in eight Florida rural counties.  Recently, she was instrumental in the establishment the Levy County Mental Health Court and spearheads many jail diversionary projects. Leah has worked in the mental health/criminal justice system for over 20 years and now covers the whole state leading efforts to increase jail and state hospital diversions. Jan and Leah have worked together for 8 years in some of the most rural areas in Florida and have seen some unique trends. They recognize the uniqueness of each rural criminal justice system and know that specialized solutions are needed.