Williamson Co. on a mission to make sure jail cells aren’t filled unnecessarily

Williamson County

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County is on a mission to make sure jail cells are not filled unnecessarily. Commissioners have applied for a grant to help provide alternatives.

“Sometimes they are criminal trespassing, but there aren’t aware of what they are doing,” said Sergeant Shamona Harris, Williamson County Jail Officer.

Shamona Harris is a jail corrections officer at the Williamson County Jail.

She says she sees non-violent offenders come through daily who are unable to navigate everyday life.

The Williamson County Jail is also known for being the largest mental health care in Williamson County.

Judge Bill Gravell says 20-30% of Williamson County inmates struggle with a mental illness. To put that into perspective, for every 30 inmates that come through the jail doors, at least five of them could have a mental illness.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature allotted $20 million to support mental health services across Texas. Williamson County is asking for $1 million dollars to expand its current mental health resources.

“It’s already happening,” said Judge Bill Gravell.

What’s already happening is a partnership with Bluebonnet Trails Community Service, a non-profit that help marry together inmates with resources they may need. For example, prescribing them medication or lining them up with counseling services.

“When they are on their medication, they are normal just like you and I,” said Harris.

Rather than walking straight into the jail systems revolving door, the funds could help fill that gap.

“When someone attempts suicide, that’s a criminal offense,” said Judge Gravell. “Do they really need to be put in jail for that? I think the right answer is they need to be in the right facility to get back on track.”

Gravell says the average number of inmates at the Williamson County Jail has dropped from more than 700 a day to 500 because of the resources already in place. Williamson County will learn if they’ll be awarded the state mental health grant this spring.

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