Quincy, Fla. – Today, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced that the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) has awarded a $1.2 million three-year grant to Gadsden County for a new Criminal Justice Diversion Project. This project will provide a comprehensive array of services and support for citizens with untreated mental health and substance abuse challenges that too often can trap them in the criminal justice system.

“I’m pleased to be working on this collaborative project that aims to reduce recidivism for those who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse disorders,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “With this new diversion program, Gadsden County joins a growing trend of recognizing that these individuals need real care and support to get back on their feet, find meaningful work, support their families and ultimately rejoin their communities.”

The Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office helped the county pursue the Criminal Justice, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Reinvestment Grant from DCF to implement the diversion project. The project partners with Florida A & M University’s (FAMU) Department of Social Work to provide comprehensive support services to ensure a coordinated response to the health needs of diversion project participants.

“Everyone should have access to high-quality behavioral health services,” said DCF Secretary Chad Poppell. “With this $1.2 million grant, as well as support from the Governor and First Lady, Gadsden County can ensure men and women who have been incarcerated or are at risk of entering deeper into the criminal justice system are offered those services and an opportunity to have full, productive lives. We look forward to seeing the meaningful and potentially monumental impact that this grant will have here over the next three years.”

“As we move forward with this grant to reduce recidivism and bring hope to individuals and their families through the identification and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, I want to recognize and thank our First Lady for her unparalleled commitment to improving access to mental health and substance abuse services,” said Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young. “Her continued efforts to bring attention to mental health and its impact on Florida’s families are vital to preserving the health, safety and welfare of the public. We look forward to bringing meaningful services to those suffering from the devastating effects of mental illness and substance abuse.”

“This new diversion program in Gadsden County is a strong step in the right direction for people ensnared in the criminal justice system due to untreated mental or substance abuse issues, and the collaboration with our Department of Social Work will help ensure sound care coordination of wraparound services,” said Director of FAMU’s Master of Social Work Program Dr. Gari D. Tookes. “Florida A & M University is honored to join with Gadsden County to provide services and counseling to help people change the trajectory of their health and lives.”

The Gadsden County Criminal Justice Diversion Project expects to serve approximately 150 participants over the next three years. In addition to the services being provided through FAMU, the project will develop crisis intervention teams throughout the county, enhanced de-escalation techniques and education on trauma-informed care practices. This will help law enforcement and the community better respond to citizens struggling with mental health and substance abuse challenges and divert them to services and treatment in lieu of incarceration.

Through the Hope for Healing Florida initiative, First Lady DeSantis is focused on addressing the need for both physical and mental health recovery following Hurricane Michael. In December, Governor Ron DeSantis and the First Lady visited Northwest Florida to announce more than $20 million for Bay, Calhoun, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties through the Hurricane Michael State Recovery Grant Fund Program, with $2.4 million going to Gadsden County.

The First Lady has announced several additional state-led efforts to provide mental health support services to communities impacted by Hurricane Michael, including:

  • $2.3 million in federal funding to expand Project HOPE in the region;
  • FDEM hiring the first Disaster Recovery Mental Health Coordinator in Florida history;
  • The installation of telehealth portals for mental health services in 63 public schools throughout six counties in Northwest Florida; and
  • An award of $1.25 million by the U.S. Department of Education to Bay County for the expansion of licensed school social workers and paraprofessionals.

Today’s announcement is part of First Lady DeSantis’ Hope for Healing Florida campaign, which strives to combine the resources and efforts of the public and private sectors to better serve Floridians struggling with mental health and substance abuse.



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