CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales shuffled around a packet of papers as she looked over the plans for the new jail diversion center, a center the Nueces County Commissioners approved last week for non-violent offenders who have mental health issues.
The Nueces Center for Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities administration building on Brownlee Boulevard near Ayers Street will be remodeled soon, and be converted into the diversion center.
The facility will house 16 men and 16 women. Canales said the facility will also have long-term outpatient services.
Last week, the commissioners court approved $3.5 million toward the remodeling that is coming from the American Rescue Plan Act fund that the county received.
Canales said they need to use the money by 2026.
The rest of the money for the center’s operations will come from the NMHID, she said.
About $300,000 would go toward a sobering center next to the diversion center.
Canales said the main goal of the center would be helping people who have mental issues before they’re arrested.
“If it’s that they’re having an episode, maybe jail isn’t the best place for them,” Canales said.
But who would qualify for the new center and who would be sent to jail?
Canales said that would be up to the district attorney’s office.
Criminal trespassing, shoplifting, and drug episodes she said would be cases where someone would be sent to the center instead of jail.
Canales said NMHID already has some of the programs the diversion center will have, but it needs medical staff to treat physical health conditions.
“We don’t have that right now. That’s hurting our ability to really get people well, and stop that revolving door from happening again,” she said.
Canales said the county commissioners are still figuring out when the facility will open, but she is hoping it will be remodeled by the end of next year.
Defense attorney Lisa Greenberg said putting someone in jail for a non-violent crime could make their mental issues even worse.
“If we have a nonviolent crime, then we need to treat the issue,” she said.
She added the center would give lawyers an opportunity to look into someone’s mental health background.
“If both sides can agree there’s a mental health issue, this is going to clear up some backlog in cases that this isn’t really a fight." Greenberg said. "You’re not fighting and saying this person is guilty or not guilty. You’re saying this person needs help.”