HOUSTON — Harris County will keep more offenders with mental health illnesses out of jail and into a mental health facility.
On Wednesday, county officials gathered outside the Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center on Dennis Street to announce the expansion of jail diversion for low-level misdemeanor offenses with mental health issues.
Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg, says the expansion is a win for all parties.
“When individuals are brought here by police it not only saves lots of money at the jail and the court, but we get people appropriate treatment,” said Ogg.
Data provided by Harris County confirms Ogg’s money-saving statement. Offenders with mental health cost taxpayers $232 per day to keep the inmate in the jail mental health unit. An inmate in general population costs $57.
The county started sending trespassers with mental illness to the diversion center in September, the decision saved the county about $9 million.
The savings and treatment of more than 1,000 people led to their decision to expand the jail diversion program to accept low-level misdemeanor offenses committed by people with mental health issues.
“This is about compassion,” said Houston Police Chief, Art Acevedo. “This is about being smart and this is about hopefully changing lives because at the end of the day, the citizens calling 911 don’t want people to go to jail, they want the behavior to stop.”
The Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center can hold up to 41 patients who spend an average of 65 hours in the facility rather than jail. While receiving treatment, patients are not detained and are able to leave on their own free will.
“I don’t want anybody to spin this as an opportunity for real crooks who are not in mental distress or have mental illness to get a pass,” said Acevedo. “That’s not what this is.”
Officials believe opening the program to more offenses, like failure to identify to a police officer, could potentially double the number of people who receive treatment rather than cycling them in and out of jail.
The Harris County Mental Health Jail Diversion Program is funded by state mental health matching grant programs through partnerships with the Harris County Judge’s Office, the Harris County Commissioners Court, the Harris County Sheriff, the Harris County District Attorney and the Harris County Criminal justice Coordinating Council Mental Health Standing Committee.
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