Travis County moves towards mental health diversion center construction.

Travis County officials have recently taken a significant step towards tackling the issue of mental health amongst inmates. County Commissioners voted unanimously to initiate the development of a new mental health diversion center that would serve as an alternative facility for individuals facing a mental health crisis, rather than jail.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown revealed that the blueprint for the facility is still in its preliminary stage. Its building is at minimum two years away from opening as officials work on details of the structure, functioning, cost, design firm, and eventual construction team. Brown recognized the importance of the diversion center as the county jail continues to accommodate a substantial population with unmet mental health needs. Furthermore, the center would reduce the number of individuals on the waitlist for beds in the Texas state hospital.

The county has noted a significant increase in jail population, rising from 1,400 to about 2,200 following the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown reveals that over 40% of this increase has unmet mental health needs, with the actual numbers possibly reaching 70%. Brown and his team have visited several operations of similar facilities across the United States, including one in Tucson, Arizona. However, he views the best model as the one in Nashville, Tennessee, with 30 beds designated for men and women giving individuals an average of 14 days to stay in the mental health facility before law charges are expunged. Since its establishment, Brown reports that the facility in Nashville has witnessed a 70% reduction in recidivism, unlike the population increase the Travis County jail is experiencing.

Brown also reacted to the passing of SB 29, which he believes would only favor politics rather than science. The bill proposes a ban on local and state governments from imposing requirements for masks or vaccines. It would also prohibit the closure of schools and businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Texas Medical Association also opposes the bill, which now heads to the House. Brown believes that the measures undertaken in Travis County during the pandemic were life-saving, with a death rate lower than the state average. Additionally, if the state had the same death rate from COVID-19 as Travis County, an additional 40,000 individuals would still be alive today.

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