May 2, 2019
HOUSTON – Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced a new policy on Wednesday, expanding jail diversion for low-level and non-violent misdemeanor offenses with mental health issues. The reform gives prosecutors the discretion to divert more individuals to the Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center.
“This is an example of reform and public safety. It also has the benefit of being the right thing to do, and it saves taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Ogg.
The reforms were presented at a news conference in which Ogg was joined by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and others who embraced the new policy.
Since September, nearly 1,000 arrests for trespassing were diverted from the jail to the Diversion Center.
An additional 2,650 mentally ill people were arrested in 2018 for other low-level, non-violent misdemeanor offenses.
Accordingly, the District Attorney and law enforcement across Harris County will expand the offenses eligible for assistance at the Diversion Center, potentially doubling the number of people who will receive treatment they need instead of cycling in and out of jail.
“Police and prosecutors will continue to consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether someone is a threat to public safety or whether diversion to mental health treatment is the proper response,” said Mental Health Bureau Chief Denise Oncken.
The Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center is a safe, therapeutic facility where individuals can be medically and psychiatrically assessed and receive mental health triage services coupled with long-term case management, serving as a bridge to housing, substance abuse treatment, legal assistance and other services.