JEFFERSON COUNTY, Texas — Jefferson County leaders are working to make mental health a priority by investing in a new diversion center for inmates.
Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens tells 12News too many inmates are being taken to the county jail when what they really need is mental health services.
Stephens says about 80 percent of inmates who come through the Jefferson County Jail suffer from mental illness. Some of them need to be put on a 24-hour watch, which puts a strain on officers and housing.
“They’re refusing to take their medications, they’re housed in a jail it doesn’t make their situation better, it gets worse and we see that,” she said.
Stephens is spearheading the new diversion center.
“The funding is coming from a contract agreement that we had from Port Arthur police and Beaumont police and Jefferson County,” she said.
All together, the three departments are putting down $8 million to make this facility happen.
As far as where the facility will be located, Stephens says they could rehabilitate unused buildings at the Dream Center in Beaumont or even build something new.
“What we do know is we have an allocation of this money by December 2024,” Stephens said.
Law enforcement in Jefferson County want to use the center to break the cycle of arresting those who may not be criminals, but continue to be put in jail because they’re mentally ill.
“If a officer encounters someone who appears to be in crisis they can bring them there and divert them from the criminal justice system and get them help,” she said.
The center would have 20 beds. Those who need help could stay anywhere between three to five nights.
“What we’re envisioning is having law enforcement there for security, people from the mental health area to screen, nurses, doctors too,” Stephens said.
Stephens hopes this will help with overcrowding at the county jail.
“We’re running out of cells to keep people. I have no guarantees that it will work, but we’re willing to try something different,” she said.
Once the facility is built, a wide range of mental health professionals would need to be hired.
Stephens says they are working with the Spindletop center for grants to pay for staffing and Lamar University’s Criminal Justice Department to use this center as training grounds or internship opportunities for students.
Also on 12NewsNow.com…
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