Across the U.S., police departments have become the front line of mental health treatment, and jails and prisons are the primary caretakers. The Travis County Jail is one of the largest mental health providers in the county, with around 34% of the jail’s roughly 1,434 inmates having a mental health designation. Black residents make up over 23% of the jail’s total bookings despite accounting for only 8% of the entire county population, highlighting the intersectional disparities between race, access to mental health programs, and the criminal justice system that have persisted for far too long. Nearly a year after the start of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests across the country that demanded a reimagining of criminal justice systems, Travis County leaders have delivered and unveiled public safety reforms that emphasize making their communities safer by investing in support services outside of the carceral system.
With the infusion of direct federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, county leaders now see a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine the criminal justice system. FUSE will partner with the County to launch the Travis Center, a fully functioning mental health diversion center that provides community-based preventive services to help people avoid interaction with the criminal legal system. FUSE will primarily work to implement a sustainability plan for the proposed center, connecting directly with community members to ensure their needs are prioritized in service delivery and forming a roadmap to establish fiscal longevity. FUSE will play an integral role in ensuring the Center supports those experiencing homelessness and addresses residents’ unmet mental health and substance-use disorders before they ever interact with law enforcement.