Oklahoma state Representative George Young, D-Oklahoma City, joined a delegation of legislators from five Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) member states at The Center for Health Care Services (CHCS) in San Antonio, Texas, November 14-15. Participants in the delegation had the opportunity to learn about the innovative strategies CHCS is using to help San Antonio’s Bexar County support those struggling with homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse.
Since its inception in 2003, CHCS’s Jail Diversion Program has successfully redirected more than 100,000 people from jail or emergency rooms and significantly reduced overcrowding in the Bexar County jail system. The program has been adopted throughout Texas, saving taxpayers in the state more than $50 million by enabling law enforcement personnel to divert people from the criminal justice system into crisis intervention and mental illness treatment centers.
Participants also heard from Officers Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro from the San Antonio Police Department, who provided a briefing on Bexar County’s 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. The training program, required for all law enforcement officers in Bexar County, equips officers with the skills to quickly identify persons suffering from mental health episodes and de-escalate potentially dangerous situations without the use of force. Bexar County’s CIT training serves as a model throughout the country.
Rep. Young, reflecting on his visit to San Antonio, said “I am so happy I accepted the invitation [from SLC] to make the trip. I have been digesting and discussing what I experienced.”