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Florida sheriff: Faith-based communities provide positive societal change

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(The Center Square) – Positive societal change comes from the faith-based community, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a recent event with pastors organized by Citizens Defending Freedom and All Pro Pastors International ministry.

In the face of a range of societal problems plaguing the country, Judd said the “government’s not going to fix this moral and ethical dilemma that we’ve got in this country today. The men and women in this room are going to fix it. You’re the only people that are going to change this country.”

Referring to leaders in Washington, D.C., he said, “The senators aren’t going to fix it. The House members aren’t going to fix it. The president’s not going to fix it. We’ve got to fix it.”

Judd’s made the argument before as he continues to lead multi-county and agency operations to root out crime entering Florida from the southwest border. Judd, who’s said he and others are doing everything they can to keep their counties safe, has warned a terrorist attack is likely to occur because of the president’s “open border policies.”

CDF has been providing resources to parents and citizens at the local level from school boards to county commissioner’s courts, arguing, “We the people” must be the positive change in society.

Judd agrees, citing an example of how one woman helped turn things around in Polk County.

Prior to being elected as sheriff in 2004, Judd met a young woman who told him she’d been in the Polk County jail and jails in central Florida many times. Her life changed when she became a Christian in a faith-based dorm in another county, she told him. She also asked him to create a faith-based dorm in the county jail when he was elected. He said he would.

Once elected, he kept his promise, he said, to a former “drug addict and felon who had been sober for seven years” at the time. Judd recounted the conversation and the success of the program to pastors at the event. Not only did his office create faith-based dorms but also invited people from the community to volunteer. Many inmates became Christians and were baptized in the county jail for the first time in county history, he said. Today, there are nearly 5,000 inmates who’ve been baptized, he said.

Judd also said since he’s been sheriff for 19 years and worked for the sheriff’s office for 51 years, he isn’t going to stop standing up for his beliefs. When atheists have criticized him for speaking about his faith or in churches in his uniform, he said, “So, I’m supposed to cower down because a group of atheists said, ‘I can’t speak about Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior?’ I’m supposed to cower down to that? That’s what we’re doing as a nation. We’re cowering down instead of standing up and saying… we’re going to do what’s right.”

Within days of meeting with the pastors’ group, his office announced the expansion of a new behavioral health treatment partnership through the county’s STARR (Substance Treatment Advocacy Recovery and Reentry) Program.

For years, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has offered prevention and recidivism reduction programs in its Central County and South County jails. These include “Helping Hands (mental health services), weekly religious worship services, pastoral visitation, one-on-one mentoring, Faith-Based Dorms (faith-based curriculum, mentoring, Bible teaching, worship service), Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, JASA (Jail Alternatives to Substance Abuse), Polk County jail mental health housing unit, PCSO Jail Medical mental health services.” The sheriff’s office also provides prevention and education programs in the jail and post jail mental healthcare assistance.

The STARR program is expanding collaboration with partnership organizations, “breaking down silos,” to involve those with shared missions to work together to improve outcomes. The expansion is focusing on helping with community reentry, fatherhood engagement and family programs and mental health first aid, among others.

“For years we have provided inmates opportunities for self-improvement – from faith-based programs to vocational and educational opportunities, to substance abuse treatment,” Judd said in a statement. “What we are doing now is visionary in mental health treatment; we are bringing multiple partners together to focus on how we can best reduce the cycle of criminality. We are breaking down silos to provide resources and services to those who end up in our jail and want to live as productive citizens. By doing this, we are improving safety in our community.”

The county jail is the largest mental health and substance use disorder housing facility in the county. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 44% of jail inmates nationwide have a mental illness and 63% have a substance use disorder. Once released, those with behavioral health issues “face many barriers to successful reentry into the community,” SAMHSA says, which “may increase their probability of relapse and re-arrest.”

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