Jefferson Co. Considering Mental Health and Addiction Diversion Center



Jefferson County has managed to house inmates in the towns of Beaumont and Port Arthur, which could lead to the development of a new facility to address overcrowding, mental health and addiction.

The Jefferson County Commissioner’s Court on Tuesday morning unanimously approved agenda items to authorize Judge Jeff Branick to execute an interlocal agreement between the county and the towns of Beaumont and Port Arthur.

In September, Jefferson County terminated its contract with the cities following a nearly decade-long disagreement over the cities share of the daily costs of prisoners at the county jail.

Sheriff Zena Stephens confirmed to The Enterprise that interim deals have been made with the two cities, which are also due to meet on Tuesday. Jefferson County Auditor Patrick Swain added that cities will also need to formally approve each contract, which goes into effect on November 1.

“Jefferson County approved it on our side,” Jefferson County Auditor Patrick Swain said.

Port Arthur Police Chief Tim Duriso said the city had yet to come up with and formally reach a deal, but was “very close”. He also expressed his support for the diversion center.

“I’m all for that. I think that’s a great idea, “he said.” A lot of the petty crimes that we see, we notice that they are related to mental health and addiction issues. When you look at some of the crimes. the more minors, a long stent in prison is not really (beneficial) for them, I think it will help us solve the problem.

Beaumont Police Chief Jimmy Singletary said the city planned to comment on the proposal on Wednesday.

The old contract was drafted in 1986. Since then, Stephens said, there have been several changes, such as the medical treatment of prisoners and how much of which agency is responsible for those costs.

The town of Beaumont owes the county about $ 3.6 million, and Port Arthur owes just under $ 1 million for unpaid inmate costs, according to an old report from Enterprise.

Prisoners from Beaumont and Port Arthur make up about 80% of the county jail population, but towns were only paying 35% of their total billed amount, county officials told The Enterprise previously.

“We tried to work with mediation in 2019. We were unable to come to an agreement with this mediation, which prompted the commissioners to cancel the current contracts and work on it,” Swain said.

The new contract has a few key differences, including resolving the dispute over the amount owed to the county under the old contract.

The new deal would reduce the cost to $ 75 per day per Class C inmate. It also includes a cap of $ 75 per day for Class A, B and Felony prisoners brought to the county jail.

The new contract also spells out the responsibilities of all agencies involved and includes language to clarify when a prisoner is officially considered a county prisoner.

The county has asked the town of Beaumont for a contribution of $ 2 million to develop a mental health and addiction diversion center for Jefferson County inmates, Swain and Stephens said.

Stephens said the facility would allow officers who encounter people with mental health or addiction issues to drop them off at a diversion center instead of entering the criminal justice system.

Similar bypass facilities have been built in other Texas counties, including Harris, Tarrant, and Bexar counties. Stephens said these centers have a partnership with district attorney’s offices and have mental health and addiction professionals working in the facilities.

“What we’re doing now is piling up a bunch of charges against people who really aren’t guilty of the crimes they’re committing because they’re mentally ill, intoxicated or on drugs,” Stephens said. “These centers would not only divert them from the criminal justice system, but also give them the resources and help they need to try to cure them.”

Since the program began in August 2014, Harris County has seen a significant reduction in the time offenders have been and stayed in, but it has also faced significant challenges in engaging and retaining people with serious mental illnesses. such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. disorder.

Ultimately, lawmakers recommended an expansion of the Harris County pilot rerouting operation because of the promise it showed, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Jefferson County will also add money to the US bailout funding pot. The Town of Port Arthur is invited to contribute $ 545,000, which is based on the same formula that was used to determine how the operating costs of the facility will be shared.

“Basically $ 2.5 million has been donated to this facility to reduce overcrowding in the prison,” Swain said.

According to previous Enterprise reports, the approximately 1,200 bed facility in Jefferson County has seen the population increase to an all-time high, with more than 1,050 inmates due to a criminal justice system slowdown linked to the pandemic.

Although a timeline was not yet available, Swain said the US bailout requires a project to be selected and launched by 2024 and completed by 2026.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Jefferson County District 4 Commissioner Everette “Bo” Alfred thanked officials for “finally making this long-term contract.”

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