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Sheriff, Mental-Health Providers Seek To Improve Inmate Care

Jessica Palombo

Jacksonville’s mental-health providers are brainstorming how to better serve prison and jail inmates despite small budgets.

Mental health providers and law-enforcement officers met Thursday and Friday to talk about the intersection of mental illness and criminal justice. The two-day event was meant to help identify gaps in service and how to bridge them.

Christine Cauffield is Executive Director at Lutheran Services Florida Health Systems. She says low funding is a persistent barrier.

“We, in spite of those challenges, have come together as a community and found innovative ways to bring in additional dollars, creative ways to collaborate so that we are addressing the needs,” Cauffied said.

Cauffield says Florida ranks 49th in the country for behavioral-health funding — and Duval County ranks among the lowest-funded in Florida.

Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford spoke at the summit on Friday. Rutherford says he plans to discourage state officials from privatizing mental health care for prison and jail inmates.

The sheriff says outsourcing mental health care to the private sector would be “a big mistake.”

Rutherford said, “It’s got to be people who have a heart for this population, not about dollars  and cents. And when you do that, when it’s about dollars and cents, people’s lives are hurt, and I don’t want to see that.”

Rutherford says the Duval County Corrections Department has made big strides toward better serving inmates with mental illness, but he says there is still work to be done.

A lot of the problem, he says, is insufficient state and federal funding. And he’s worried a requested increase from the state Legislature will get pushed aside amidst a budget standoff over Medicaid expansion.

You can follow Jessica Palombo @jessicapubradio.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP