LEESBURG – When people get out of prison or county jails, they face a myriad of challenges : finding a job, getting an apartment, and establishing credit as a convicted felon. It’s not easy, and it can be very stressful getting themselves reestablished in the community.
It doesn’t help that ex-felons come out of prison without any medical coverage, in most instances.
“Sometimes this population tends to use (public) services at a higher rate than the general public,” said Tony Deaton, probation director for the Probation Services Division at the Lake County Department of Conservation and Compliance. “They use emegrnecy medical services and go to emergency rooms more often for health care because they don’t have medical care.”
In an effort to assist people who have been released from prison or are on probation or parole, the Florida Department of Corrections will be hosting a Health Fair at the Venetian Gardens Community Center, 109 E. Dixie Ave. in Leesburg, on Tuesday, Aug. 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The purpose of the Health Fair is to assist those on probation successfully re-enter society by helping them connect to local resources for medical care, dental care, substance abuse treatment, and mental health programs.
“We want to help them use health prevention, so it’s going to decrease the system costs,” he said. “And they do tend to have a fair share of medical and other problems.”
The fair is expected to provide the former inmates with an opportunity to meet with medical professionals who can perform blood pressure screenings and pre-diabetic glucose testing, and there will be a dentist on hand as well, and a nutritionist to offer advice on meeting their nutritional needs.
Employees with the state Department of Children and Families will have a table to help them apply for Medicaid coverage and for cash and food assistance. The Florida Blood Centers Big RED bus will be on site for anyone who wants to donate blood.
“We’re having different resources come to the event,” said Correctional Probation Supervisor Stephanie Perry at the State of Florida Probation and Parole office in Leesburg. “The (Florida) Health Department will be there, and will have smoking cessation and Healthy Start information available. They’ll have as dentist there to do pre-screenings, and there will also be a nurse at the fair. Community Health Centers of Leesburg will be doing glucose and blood pressure testsm and we’ll have different substance abuse and mental health abuse treatment programs.”
Perry noted that some past Re-Entry fairs have focused on helping felons connect with community programs that can assist them in finding a job or locating an apartment to rent. This time, she said, they decided to put the focus on meeting their health care needs.
“We just decided to do something a little different,” she said. “We didn’t want to do the same thing this time. The Department of Chidlren and Families will be there and will be able to sign people up for Medicaid that day, and for temporary cash assistance, and we’ll have people on site to help them fill out the paperwork for low cost or no cost medical care. We’re working on just trying to get as many resoruces for them as well.”
Deaton noted that the Florida Department of Corrections employs 2,000 probation officers to supervise more than 151,000 active probationers on community supervision throughout the state. Part of the job of probation officers is to assist with the successful re-entry of former inmates and offenders into the workforce and the community. Re-Entry fairs, held several times throughout the year, are a part of that.
“We have a sytem where the state Department of Corrections handles all of the felony offenders, and at the county level, where I work, we handle all the misdemeanor offenders coming through the jail system,” Deaton said. “We work cooperatively in our Re-Entry efforts, so we do these quaterly now.”
Probation officers’ duties include making contact with offenders in their homes, at work and at the probation office, monitoring payment of victim restitution and court costs, ensuring that probationers attend court-ordered treatment programs for drug, alcohol and mental health issues, conducting pre-sentencing and other investigations for the courts, and answering the court’s questions regarding supervision programs, statutory provisions, out-of-state transfers, and probation violations.
Although the aim of this Re-Entry fair is to assist people getting out of prison or on probation, “There are services being offered at this health fair available to the general public as well,” Deaton said.
To learn more, contact Perry at 352-360-6564 or at Perry.Stephanie@mail.dc.state.fl.us.
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