Here's a portion of the letter to the DAs and CAs from the Texas Council of Community MHMR Centers:
It is estimated that there are approximately 54, 255 individuals requiring crisis services annually in Texas.That $82 million figure represents a phase-in of a larger program that will ultimately cost $222 million per biennium, according to a September report (pdf) by the Department of State Health Services. That report identified several ways enhanced crisis care might help local jails, specifically:
Our inability to serve these individuals adequately results in significant impacts upon hospital emergency rooms, county jails and law enforcement.
The Department of State Health Services earlier this year established a Crisis Services Redesign Committee to develop recommendations for mental health crisis services that are delivered through the local mental health authorities.
To see a full copy of the Crisis Services Redesign Report, go here.
The Committee recommended the following core services be available in communities to treat psychiatric emergencies:
The Department of State Health Services is requesting $82 million in their Appropriation Exceptional Item to begin implementation of a "mental health crisis system redesign."
- Crisis hotline services
- Psychiatric emergency services with extended observation services (23 to 48 hours)
- Crisis outpatient services
- Community crisis residential services
- Mobile outreach services
- Crisis intervention team (CIT) mental health deputy/peace officer program
If you wish to get involved, please contact:
Associate Director - Behavioral Health
Texas Council of Community MHMR Centers
- mental health services often are not available or accessible so that the only placement, other than the street, is jail
- long waiting times that law enforcement officers experience when escorting patients to health facilities result in jail placemet so that officers can return to their other duties
- committee members and commenters statewide in agreement that jail for people whose need is for mental health services should not be an option
Probably about 20 percent of the inmates in any given jail or prison are going to be mental health patients. That’s about the percentage here in Austin. We need a system to treat people in a humane environment where they are going to get proper care and it will keep them from rotating in and out of the system.There's no question the effect of the shortage of mental health treatment facilities on the criminal justice system looms large. When a mentally ill defendant is in "crisis," to use the technocratic phrase, i.e., in the throes of mental illness and unable to engage in rational thought, a court will typically declare them "incompetent" to stand trial. That then requires "competency restoration" services from mental health crisis treatment centers. But the state hospitals are utterly full, and at any given time dozens or even hundreds of defendants may be waiting, often for many months, for treatment beds to open up.
Until then they're housed in the county jails. They've been found guilty of no crime yet. Indeed, the courts won't let them plead "guilty" until their competency is restored. That's a contributing reason why the report found that "people with mental illness who commit misdemeanors stay in jail longer and use more criminal justice resources than others [who are] not mentally ill."
In misdemeanor cases, it's not uncommon at all for a defendant to spend much longer waiting for a state hospital bed to open up to be treated and declared competent than the sentence would be for their alleged offense. (See a particularly unfortunate individual example of this from Injustice Anywhere.)
For all that, the DSHS report never specifically mentions competency restoration services, neither in the text nor in the proposed $222 million budget. But that remains a big concern for DAs, Sheriffs, judges and others in the criminal justice system. Maybe it's the case that expanded MH capacity allowed by the new spending would simply be enough to resolve the problem, but it's not specifically addressed either in the report or in Mr. Lovelace's letter.
I'll try to find out whether competency restoration funds would be addressed by this "Exceptional Item," or if the Lege would still need to pony up for those costs. Or if any reader knows more details, please let me know.
See prior related Grits coverage:
- Chincy state hospital funding leaves mentally incompetent defendants stranded
- Unfunded mandate: Counties struggle to pay for mentally incompetent defendants' care
- More counties grumbling at backlog of incompetent defendants in county jails
- MH funding not enough, but better than a sharp stick in the eye