Chief deputy, director testify for $4.8M pilot program

VICTORIA- Everyday nearly 400 people call the Victoria County Jail home. While some among the crowd arrive mentally stable, another forty to sixty percent deal with some form of mental illness.

On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Roy Boyd and Gulf Bend Center Executive Dir. Jeff Tunnell were in Austin to share their idea for a community collaborative pilot program aimed at reducing incarceration of mentally ill individuals serving minor offenses.

Proposed Texas Senate Bill 292 by Senator Joan Huffman is similar to what officials are looking for but S.B. 292 doesn’t focus on providing help in rural areas.

“We have read bill 292,” said Boyd. “We think it’s a really good bill but we are in a more rural setting.”

Boyd and Tunnell sat before the Senate Committee on Finance at the State Capitol to encourage funding for a $4.8 million dollar pilot project. The cost, according to Boyd, is an estimate.

“We’re pulling all three of those elements together combing a plan that starts with what we can do before they get into trouble,” said Tunnell.

The three elements Boyd and Tunnell spoke about was ensuring employment, housing and income for consistent offenders dealing with mental illnesses.

“One of the keys to this plan is jail diversion preventing people from going to jail for non-violent offenses for a MHMR episode,” said Boyd.

The pilot would essentially create a task force to help people from going to jail who don’t need to be inter-mixed with those serving criminal offenses.

“These people aren’t criminals,” said Boyd. “They are people who are having issues that need to be resolved.”

Bill 292 wouldn’t work for the crossroads community as the proposed bill only targets the ten most populated counties in the state of Texas.

“Our goal is to change the way that law enforcement and your local mental health authority work together and how we process these things.”