Friday, August 28, 2009

County scrambling to fill the void

Officials try to find funds for inmate services after a state program was cut
By Rich Flowers News Editor

Henderson County is scrambling to overcome a loss of funds cut from a state program that provided inmate mental evaluations and other services.

The Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments had funded the program which was administered in Henderson County through the Andrews Center. Last week, Henderson County Judge David Holstein’s office received notice the inmate evaluations had been terminated.

Tuesday, the Andrews Center board met to try to fill the gap left by TCOOMMI. Chief of Operations Cindy Grace said the meeting left the board still looking for answers.

“All we know is TCOOMMI is no longer funding that,” she said. “We’re awaiting direction from the Texas Department of State Health Services on how that is going to be funded. Right now we don’t have any direction on that.”

TCOOMMI was created by the Texas Legislature in 1989 to “reduce the time of additional imprisonment, reduce recidivism and divert offenders with mental illness, mental retardation and severe medical impairments to appropriate treatments instead of incarceration.”

Henderson County pays Andrews Center $30,000 each year for help with the mentally ill, mentally retarded, chemically dependent and mentally disabled. The center offers screenings to determine if the individual is in need of emergency services and provides the county with after-hour mental evaluation and commitment screenings.

Holstein said the county has only been involved with TCOOMMI for a few months. He was optimistic the program would be beneficial for the county.

Kay Dingler, with Holstein’s office, serves on the Andrews Center board.

“As it stands right now there are two options. The Texas Department of State Health Services would supplement it and provide services. They could either fund what they’ve taken away, or provide a different program,” Dingler said. “Another possibility is for the Andrews Center to offer the services. Right now, it’s a hurry up and wait sort of thing — but there are not many options right now.”

Grace said her office has been in contact with Dingler concerning the issue.

“I don’t think we’ve come to any agreement yet,” Grace said. “It’s still in the process of planning. I can‘t really tell you what the result is going to be.”

TCOOMMI provided several services in addition to mental evaluations for local county jail inmates. The program also offered assistance for parolees and probationers residing within Henderson County, Dingler said.

If the county has to pick up the bill for inmate evaluations, the funds will have to be found in an already tight 2010 budget.

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