San Antonio Sets an Example of Successful Rehabilitative Services
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 16.9 percent of adults in local jails have a serious mental illness. These numbers are higher than the general population which suggests the criminal justice system has a unique role to fill. Many alternatives to incarceration have been created to target this population and have seen effective results.
Located in San Antonio, Texas, the Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center has a program that has been seeing effective results. The diversion program is an option for 12 to 17-year-old girls who have mental health issues and have committed low-level offenses. The mental health court, called Crossroads, holds girls accountable by requiring drug tests, curfew checks and community service while also providing services such as individual counseling and equine therapy. The program works with the girls’ schools and families to provide a holistic rehabilitative program. The girls report to court with their parents to discuss school life, home life, family and relationship issues, criminal activity, and overall mental health with a group of professionals. These professionals include therapists, case managers and probation officers. Laura Parker, a Bexar County Juvenile Court Judge, founded the Crossroads program in 2009 because she saw a need for a more individualized approach. Since then, 72 girls have completed the program.
At the Bexar County Jail, every adult is screened for mental illness before being admitted. If they have mental health issues, they are taken to a separate unit where they have higher access to mental healthcare providers and specially trained officers. Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said, “[W]e’re not about minimum standards. We’re about making sure that we’re doing the right things to protect the people who are in our custody.”
Specially tailored programs such as these can be more widespread with reallocation of criminal justice funds. By reducing the prison population of non-violent, low risk offenders, that money can be better spent on rehabilitation, victims, and the community.