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LIMESTONE COUNTY

Local law enforcement forced to take action at Central Texas state school

By: Amanda Gomez

LIMESTONE COUNTY- When Texas lawmakers decided to change the makeup of one Central Texas State Supported Living Center, it started creating some problems for local law enforcement.

In January of 2009, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 643, which designated the Mexia State Supported Living Center as a "forensic unit", meaning every "client" that is an alleged offender or who has challenging behavioral needs from across the state would be transferred to Mexia for an evaluation.

Client refers to someone with a mental disability. Those clients who are housed at the Mexia State Supported Living Center receive treatment and services from the center and the staff who are specially trained to work with the clients.

However, because part of the campus in Mexia was changed to "forensic", Limestone County Sheriff, Dennis Wilson, says they started seeing the clients commit new criminal offenses on campus.

"Probably on average we probably look at 12 to 15 cases a month where you have assaults that are client on staff. We also have a smaller number of client on client."

Sheriff Wilson says deputies then have to come out an arrest some of the clients who are allegedly attacking the staff or other clients.

"These are clients that wind up in my county jail, therefore they become a tax burden and cost factor for the local taxpayers."

That's why Sheriff Wilson wants the state to make a small section of the State Support Living Center a detention center for the problem clients.

"There were no provisions made in the conversion from the old campus to the new campus for a designated detention area. When I say detention center I'm talking about an area on campus that would allow the staff at the assisted living center an area to take a client or put a client that's been involved in some type of aggressive behavior or criminal act."

Wilson says they are not asking the state to build a prison on campus, but rather take a building that already exists and turn into a place where the staff can safely place the clients for a temporary period of time when they act out. This also keeps the sheriff's department from having to place certain clients in the county jail.

The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services says they are aware of the problem and are working closely with the Limestone County Sheriff's Department to keep the clients out of jail and fix the issue.

"Obviously it is not our intention for any of the residents of the Mexia State Supported Living Center to be incarcerated in the county jail or anywhere else, so we are working diligently with the staff there at the facility in Mexia to lessen the likelihood that might occur," said Cecilia Fedorov, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Fedorov also says they are providing extra training for the staff and even holding focus groups to talk about how to meet the needs of the clients and avoid these types of problems. Fedorov also hadn't heard about any of the "alleged" assaults taking place recently on campus but again, says they are working with the sheriff's department.

Sheriff Wilson also told News Channel 25 they love having the State Supported Living Center in Mexia and admire what the staff do because it takes a special person to work there and all the staff come highly trained. Wilson says the center is also very secure and they just want to help keep it that way.

"Our goal again is not only to protect the staff but to protect the other clients as well because I think we have a duty to them as well to protect them as well as the staff."

The Sheriff also says he believes the entire issue is probably something that was never part of a discussion when the plans were made to change the center to a "forensic unit." He also says while the county understands the state is in a budget crisis, this is something they hope the state will take into consideration.

"It's a very small problem the state needs to look at or address simply because it's the right thing to do."

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