CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales shuffled a bundle of papers as she reviewed plans for the jail’s new diversion center, a center Nueces County commissioners approved last week last for non-violent offenders with mental health issues.
The administrative building of the Nueces Center for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities on Brownlee Boulevard near Ayers Street will soon be renovated and converted into a 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 court of commissioners approved $3.5 million for the remodel from the American Rescue Plan Act fund the county received.
Canales said they must use the money by 2026.
The rest of the money for center operations will come from NMHID, she said.
About $300,000 would go towards a sobering up center next to the diversion center.
Canales said the center’s main purpose would be to help people with mental health issues before they are arrested.
“If it’s that they have 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 prison?
Canales said that would depend on the district attorney’s office.
According to her, criminal trespassing, shoplifting and drug episodes would be cases where someone would be sent to the center rather than to prison.
Canales said NMHID already has some of the programs the diversion center will have, but needs medical staff to address physical health issues.
“We don’t have that right now. It hurts our ability to really care for people and prevent this revolving door from happening again,” she said.
Canales said county commissioners are still determining when the facility will open, but she hopes it will be renovated by the end of next year.
Defense attorney Lisa Greenberg said putting someone in jail for a non-violent crime could make their mental problems worse.
“If we have a non-violent crime, then we have to deal with the problem,” she said.
She added that the center would give lawyers the opportunity to review someone’s mental health history.
“If both parties can agree that there’s a mental health issue, that will solve some of the backlog where it’s not 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.