Pubdate: Fri, 26 May 2006
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2006 Corpus Christi Caller-Times


After years of dealing with people with mental illness and drug abuse
problems that may lead to repeated stints in jail, the Nueces County
Sheriff's Department will receive a grant of $1.53 million over three
years to try to tackle the problem.

"Today is a beautiful day," said Sheriff Rebecca Stutts. "I'm so
excited to see it happen, this is a culmination of three years of work
from a lot of people and departments."

Nueces County joins three other counties in the nation in instituting
a diversion program for people with addiction and mental illness
problems. Locally the program will be called the South Texas Diversion

The goal of the program is to identify the top 100 people with mental
illness and substance abuse issues in the community and move them into
the program to get help that may keep them out of the county jail.

Several groups will participate in the diversion program, including
Charlie's Place, Corpus Christi Police Department, Nueces County
Mental Health Mental Retardation, Reality Ranch and the Nueces County
Hospital District.

It was groups such as these that helped John Mark Williams say goodbye
to addiction and trips to jail. After being sober for more than two
years he went to Del Mar College and took a refresher course to be a
certified electrician. Now he has his own apartment, a job and he
wants to help others who were in the same condition he was just a few
years ago.

Williams said that for years he lived in a fog and all he needed was
the South Staples Street bridge he lived under and his drugs and alcohol.

"To me you all were the aliens, you all were the ones that were
different," he said. "All I knew was drugs and alcohol but once I got
a little bit of self confidence there was no stopping me. Now I think
'Why did I waste so much of my life and what am I going to do with it
now?' "

Williams said he was arrested and placed in the Nueces County Jail 59
times, but those were only the times he was picked up for public
intoxication and other misdemeanor charges in Corpus Christi.

Chief Deputy Jimmy Rodriguez said he hopes the diversion program
reaches people such as Williams. The people who will be targeted are
not violent offenders but ones with continuous substance abuse and
mental illness problems.

"The jail is not the right setting for these people," Rodriguez said.
"It might be the worse place they could be."

Rodriguez said there would be multiple teams, each with a deputy,
caseworker and case manager, that would contact people brought to the
department's attention or who were identified through the jail as a
potential client.

"We were one of only four in the country to receive this grant,"
Rodriguez said. "We are proud they showed confidence in us and we
won't let them down." 
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