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County jail diversion program moving forward

News like this is always welcome.

Harris County is moving forward with a much-anticipated jail diversion program aimed at reducing the soaring number – and the associated cost – of mentally ill residents who repeatedly cycle through the county lockup.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett this week announced his pick to head the four-year pilot program, authorized by the Legislature this year. Regenia Hicks, former director of children’s mental health services at Mental Health & Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, started as program director last week.

The Minneapolis native, 61, is “somebody that’s got a lot of background, experience and training in this,” Emmett said. “She’s familiar with the community here, so I was glad she was available.”

Hicks is tasked with creating a diversion model that state and local officials hope eventually will serve as a template for a statewide program aimed at reducing the jail recidivism rate among mentally ill populations.

[...]

“Our hope is that we’re going to be able to help pull together the existing services that we right now have here in Harris County, layer over some additional services and support that will really be able to stop that kind of revolving door,” said Hicks, who has lived in Houston for 19 years and previously worked as a research scientist for the American Institutes for Research, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit behavioral and social science research organization.

Harris County has done a commendable job on expanding mental health services and diverting folks who need treatment to the proper services and away from the jails. Commissioners Court, Judge Emmett, Sheriff Garcia, and a whole mess of non-elected people deserve kudos for it. Imagine how much more they could get done if Texas expanded Medicaid and took advantage of all the mental health and other services that come with it. Harris County would certainly benefit, but that’s out of their hands. We need new leadership at the top for that. Be that as it may, the county is doing what it can with what it’s got, and good on them for it.

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