Divert People from the Justice System Altogether and Provide Them Treatment in the Community

Policy Background

In 2017, more than 800,000 people were arrested in Texas – 147,000 for drug violations alone.1 According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, low-income people with substance use disorder must wait weeks for intensive residential treatment, outpatient treatment, and Medication-Assisted Treatment.2 People in need of co-occurring psychiatric and substance abuse treatment must similarly wait weeks for specialized services.3 Texas’ inadequate treatment infrastructure means people with drug use problems are far more likely to be arrested than receive help. Over the past five years, nearly all serious and violent offense cases have declined significantly in this state, whereas drug possession cases have increased nearly 25 percent.4 The cycle of substance use, arrest, and incarceration simply continues – ravaging families, perpetuating the drug crisis in Texas, and squandering resources that could be used to truly prevent crime.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 292, which created a mental health matching grant program to reduce recidivism, arrests, and incarceration among people with mental illness. Grant applications were submitted by community collaboratives, which included a wide array of local stakeholders inside and outside the criminal justice system who identified specific community needs with respect to treatment capacity and local coordination. Texas can leverage the successes of that model in its efforts to address substance use and see declines in related crime.

Proposed Solution

Expand the community collaborative model to address the intersects between substance use and the justice system, and empower communities to develop a localized approach to public health and safety through regional grants. Require grant recipients to develop a strategic plan, identify treatment and coordination gaps, set state and county jail reduction targets, implement locally driven programming (like pre-arrest diversion initiatives or other programs), and achieve progress towards goals to continue receipt of funding. Capture and reinvest justice system savings to sustain funding for alternative interventions.

Note: Where pre-arrest diversion strategies have been implemented – promoting access to community-based services rather than arrest and jail – communities have seen a remarkable drop in re-arrest rates. Specifically, participants in these programs were 58 percent less likely to be arrested after enrollment than those who went through the traditional criminal justice process.5 Pre-arrest strategies ensure that people can access help while the justice system focuses on more serious cases.

Relevant Bill

  • Bill Number: HB 2707 [Price, Allen, Minjarez, Sheffield, White]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the expansion of the community mental health grant program to include services to and treatment of individuals with substance use disorders.
    TCJC Materials: Fact Sheet

Other Bills Related to Community-Based Supports that Can Prevent Justice System Involvement

Other Materials


2 Texas Health and Human Services Commission, data request, September 2017.

3 Mary Ann Priester et al., “Treatment Access Barriers and Disparities Among Individuals with Co- Occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: An Integrative Literature Review,” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment (2016), Vol. 61, 55.

4 Office of Court Administration, Court Activity Database, District Criminal Court Dispositions, 2013–2017.

5 Susan E. Collins et al., “Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD): Program Effects on Recidivism Outcomes,” Evaluation and Program Planning, 64 (2017), 49–56.