In May 2022, county officials put together a steering committee composed of experts in law, psychiatry, homelessness and public safety to find solutions to the county’s growing mental health crisis. The team came to the following conclusions:
Instead of sending individuals accused of nonviolent crime to jail, the county is working on a 32- to 70-bed center that would provide them mental health resources.
Many Travis County residents who need mental health care are going to jail or an emergency room after committing nonviolent crimes or showing mental health disorder-related behaviors.
HOW THE DIVERSION CENTER WORKS
An officer brings an individual accused of a nonviolent crime to jail to get booked and go through a mental health evaluation. 1 mental health resources, such as a peer support specialist, psychiatric help or medication. 3 At the center, the individual will be given
If the individual is deemed eligible for diversion, they will be relocated from jail to the nearby diversion center. 2
40% of the Travis County Jail population reported mental illness.
150 Travis County Jail inmates are waiting for state mental health beds.
420 DAYS the longest time for an inmate to be transferred to a non-maximum security mental health facility
If the individual completes the mental health program, their records will be expunged, which means they are unavailable to the public. 4
STUCK IN JAIL
In a sample of 2,231 inmates, 106 had a mental illness and were repeatedly going to jail between 3 and 89 times; 75% of the crimes committed by this group were misdemeanors.
Indecent exposure Evading arrest Burglary Criminal mischief Possession Resisting arrest/search/transport Assault*
SIGNS OF SUCCESS
Property theft Miscellaneous Criminal trespassing
106 Sent to jail 3-89 times
The Sobering Center in Travis County has redirected almost 8,000 people from entering the hospital or jail since 2021.
People who go to the Nashville mental health Diversion Center are 70% less likely to go back to jail .
Miami’s Crisis Intervention Teams saved roughly $12M annually in taxpayer dollars after closing one of the jails due to diverting arrests.
SOURCES: TRAVIS COUNTY, THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS DELL MEDICAL SCHOOL/COMMUNITY IMPACT
The study, which was completed in March, led to a recommendation to build a diversion center that will bring nonviolent offenders to a facility with mental health services instead of jail or an emergency room. The center—an estimated $30 mil- lion endeavor that will take at least two years to build—was met with widespread support from local govern- ment and the community, including law enforcement, Austin City Council, homeless advocacy groups and legal experts. It was also a promising step
the pandemic, when the population was in the 1,400s, Brown said. About 40% of the county’s jail population self-reported having a mental illness, up from about 21% in 2020. Brown said if a quarter of that pop- ulation were eligible for the diversion program, it would relieve pressure from corrections officers as the depart- ment is down about a third of its staff with 263 vacancies as of March. With a growing number of inmates with mental health issues, Texas’ lim- ited resources for care are backed up.
forward for Staley. Both Staley and Brown said the county jail effectively functions as the areas largest mental health facility. Staley said he also sees many individ- uals struggling on the streets. “And, of course, neither one of those are doing anything for these individuals that really need our help.” The need for care As of April 18, the Travis County Jail population had reached almost 2,200 inmates, up from the early stages of
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arrested for breaking into a store or shoplifting. And we’ll track them in Travis County [Jail], and then we’ll see that they got out, and they’ll return to our store.” When Staley reached out to Travis County Judge Andy Brown about the issue last fall, the county’s Forensic Mental Health Project—a 10-month study to identify solutions to the county’s growing mental illness prob- lem—was already in full swing.
Parents know their child’s education is more than just one high- stakes test on one day. Let’s prepare our students for the future, expand public school accountability, and Measure What Matters.
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