It’s Official: Cameron County Will Not Host Transitional Housing

From the Endeavor News

CAMERON CO. – Cameron County will not host the transitional housing facility that has been proposed as part of a re-entry program for released prison inmates.

That’s what a group of about 40 learned last Friday during a public meeting that brought the agencies spearheading the program before the public for the first time.

Earlier this year, Dickinson Mental Health and Cameron/Elk Mental Health Mental Retardation applied for a federal grant for programs aimed at helping to rehabilitate criminals by addressing the underlying reasons they commit crimes— such as drug and alcohol addictions, mental health disorders and, often, the environment in which they live.

A portion of the money would be used to create a “transitional housing” facility— a sort-of halfway house for released prisoners— where inmates would be housed while they get the treatments and life skills they need to be productive in society.

When that facility was proposed to be located in Cameron County, the grant and the county’s role in it were put under a microscope by a handful of residents who saw putting former inmates in a county already dealing with significant drug and alcohol issues and the state’s highest unemployment rate as a recipe for disaster.

“The timing for this is really poor,” said Dana Crisp, a resident who is active in the philanthropic community group Sylvan Heritage Council. “We need things that focus on the positive aspects of our community, particularly now with all that’s going on.”

The program’s supporters, meanwhile, believe that a bad local economy, alarming drug and alcohol abuse rates and rising criminal activity are exactly the reasons additional support services are needed in the area.

“There’s no question that treatment is more effective and less expensive than incarceration,” said Dickinson’s David Webster. “Scientific studies prove that and if you do the research, you’ll see that there’s a plethora of truth to what I’m telling you.”

Webster, a mental health coordinator, said that Cameron County would no longer be considered as a site for the housing facility. “It’s unfortunate, but I totally respect it,” he said.

Webster explained Dickinson’s approach to treating convicted criminals with mental health or abuse issues and noted that the grant will enhance what the agency already offers, not replace it.

“We’re going to continue to provide these services to Cameron County, no matter what happens (with this grant),” he explained. “The housing end of it is really what is new. We haven’t been able to offer that until now and it’s absolutely critical in treatment.”

The plan calls for a multi-unit housing facility that is semi-supervised. During their stay, parolees would receive treatment for their specific issues, as well as job-seeking skills and a host of other life skills, all with the goal of easing them back into society in an environment that is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

“We believe that a community’s security is enhanced when everybody is in one place,” Webster said. “We have a record of where these folks are staying and that enables us to provide more consistent services.”

Opponents don’t agree.

“I’m an ex-cop,” commissioner Glen Fiebig said. “Experience has taught me that putting ex-convicts together in the same (housing unit) is never a good thing.”

According to Webster, that’s something Cameron County residents no longer have to worry about.

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