Bexar County has entered a three year 'Mental Health Public Defender' program to try to keep people with mental illnesses out of the Bexar County Jail, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The step comes as County Judge Nelson Wolff is moving toward what is called 'restorative justice,' and getting away from the 'Zero Tolerance' "lock 'em up and throw away the key" programs that were popular in the 1990s.
Wolff says research has shown that those type of programs don't work to reduce crime, and lead to 'oversentencing,' placing people into jails and prisons who don't need to be there, and waste taxpayer money that could be going to smarter law enforcement.
"When we look at issues like domestic violence and some of the others, rather than trying to cure it or work it, I believe that we only make it worse," he said of simply jailing offenders.
Bexar County has already begun to move toward keeping the homeless and the mentally ill out of jail for non violent property offenses, and the city's highly lauded 'Cite and Release' program aims to keep more people out of jail for minor offenses. A stint in jail for any reason can lead to a person being denied jobs, a place in the military, a loan, and government benefits.
Wolff took a jab at judges who adhere to 'zero tolerance' philosophies.
"When you get to some of the judges who relish the idea of sticking someone away in jail, it is actually making it more dangerous for people than it is making it safe for them."