Inmates benefit from new program

Citrus Connection used to run through downtown Frostproof but when city council voted not to continue subsidizing the line, the Citrus Connection board decided not to shorten the bus line and reduce expenses but extend it to South County Jail. 

POLK COUNTY – Back in September, Citrus Connection Route 35 started at Eagle Ridge Mall, made a couple of stops in Lake Wales, then Babson Park, then Frostproof and then back north. When Frostproof City Council voted not to subsidize their share of the line, the Citrus Connection board voted to transfer services to South County Jail.

Citrus Connection Executive Director said Route 35 costs $159,319 per year. The route takes 110 minutes to complete with 40 of those going to and from the jail. Phillips could not provide statistics on how many people are taking the bus to the jail. Federal and state grants pay half of the cost. The City of Lake Wales was asked to pay $63,820 annually for 2017-18 and climb to $93,103 by 2019-20. The Polk County Board of County Commissioners pays the remaining amount.

Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey is on the Citrus Connection board with County Commissioner John Hall. Commissioner Lindsey was asked why he helped authorize tax money for bus service to the jail.

“Not everyone in jail has been adjudicated guilty,” Commissioner Lindsey said. “Whether they have or have or have not been adjudicated, having contact with family members is a positive influence.”

Free rent and utilities 

State Dept. of Children and Families grants and local matching funds from the Polk County indigent health care fund are being used to initiate a program designed to try and prevent recently released inmates from getting locked up again soon after.

The grants are used to fund case management to help recently released inmates with mental health problems to apply for benefits, addiction counseling from paramedics, prescription medications and rent and utility assistance for a few months. According to a Dec. 2016 University of South Florida report, those receiving these services were less likely to be re-incarcerated within a year. The study concluded that it costs less to help recently released inmates than to keep them incarcerated. The study had no long-term conclusions.

County commissioners previously approved money for case management services. They were scheduled to approve state grants of around $400K per year helping inmates pay rent and utilities temporarily while they look for work or seek other means to pay their bills once released.

As many as 240 inmates could benefit from these grants annually, according to county documentation. Central Florida Behavioral Health Network staff will be administrating the grants. Email info@cfbhn.org for more information.

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