New Diversion Center will Keep People with Mental Illness out of Jail

New Diversion Center will Keep People with Mental Illness out of Jail

Harris County now has a new resource to help keep people with mental illness out of the Harris County Jail. The new Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center provides law enforcement with a community-based alternative for persons with mental illness who have been picked up for low-level, non-violent offenses such as trespass. The Diversion Center celebrated its ribbon-cutting and dedication October 1, 2018 at 9 a.m.

“The opening of the Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center offers our community a viable and humane solution to the criminalization and inefficient detention of people with mental illness and truly embodies the spirit of relational policing,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

The center will provide an array of services that include:

  • Triage, assessment, 24-48 hour observation, and short-term crisis respite beds;
  • Peer engagement and psychosocial rehabilitation;
  • Integrated care and individual treatment plans to assist with stabilization;
  • Comprehensive discharge planning with case management; and
  • Access to wrap-around services, such as substance abuse treatment and housing.

“Our public safety depends on the way we utilize police and prosecutor time.  Diverting the mentally ill to treatment instead of jail will help keep Harris County safer and save taxpayers millions,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg of the new Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center.

Sometimes people with mental illness and criminal justice involvement may fall through the safety net. As Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez explains, “The Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center fills a gaping hole in our public service safety net, connecting those suffering from mental illness with the right resources without an unnecessary jail stay that hurts families and drains public safety resources.”

The Harris County legislative delegation has been supportive of issues related to mental health. State Senator Joan Huffman and State Representative Senfronia Thompson led the legislative efforts that created the Harris County Mental Health Jail Diversion pilot program at Judge Emmett’s office, which laid the ground work for this new programming.

According to Wayne Young, Chief Executive Officer of The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, “Though the Harris Center now operates the Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center, it is truly a collaboration between community partners who are deeply committed to better serve the mental health needs of the most vulnerable residents in our community, rather than the jail.” Key partners include Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the Harris County Commissioners Court, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Mental Health Standing Committee and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The Diversion Center is named in honor of Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and his long-standing commitment to improving the lives of persons with mental illness. “This is a truly humbling honor. Although my name is on the building, many others worked to make this a reality. To be clear, though, this facility is dedicated to those individuals and families who deal with mental health issues in their lives,” said Judge Emmett.

Rachael Tison