AUSTIN (KXAN) — During next week’s Austin City Council meeting, members will discuss how much of a stake the city will have in Travis County’s plan to build a mental health and substance use diversion center.
“I think it’s important to make sure that we play a role in this, and making sure that we’re able to put forward whatever resources that are needed to make this diversion center a reality,” Council Member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri said. He brought the resolution forward.
The city helping foot the bill for the project is something Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea brought up before the item passed through that body a couple of weeks ago.
“That’s a discussion that will take place on the dais, but I think we need to play as an active role as possible,” Qadri said.
Students at the LBJ School of Public Affairs calculated an estimate of how much the facility would cost, according to the report. To build a 32-bed diversion center at just over 30,000 square feet, it would cost the county roughly $30 million to create the facility, and roughly $5 million a year to operate.
While the specific details of who is eligible for the diversion center haven’t been hemmed out yet, the goal is to provide non-violent offenders with a mental health or substance use disorder treatment instead of allowing them to cycle through the criminal justice system time and time again.
According to a Dell Medical School report, there are roughly 900 people with a “mental health identifier” in the Travis County jail at any given time. That accounts for just under 40% of the population.
Researchers also collected booking data from September 2018 to September 2022 and found at least 100 people who “typified people cycling in and out of jail” with a mental health flag. People in that pool each had at least three arrests. One had as many as 89, according to the report.
Of those people, 75% of arrests were for misdemeanors. Criminal trespassing charges accounted for 55% of the multiple arrests.