Saturday, January 13, 2007

Number of mentally ill inmates, parolees rising

About one in five Texans under supervision of the criminal justice system have been clients of the state's mental health system, according to the newly published interim report (pdf) of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee. A whopping 30% of Texas prison inmates are former state mental health clients.

Here are the raw numbers that came up when they ran a match in February 2006 between TDCJ's prison, probation and parole rolls and the Department of State Health Services' client list (p. 5):

Total MH Client Matches
Probationers 430,312 57,719 (13%)

Parolees 77,167 21,097 (27%)

Incarcerated 151,528 45,628 (30%)

Total 659,007 124,444 (19%)

And that doesn't even include mentally ill inmates in county jails, which by some accounts may house even a greater percentage of mentally ill defendants. These figures are substantially higher than earlier estimates of the number of mentally ill incarcerated and on parole in Texas, though the number of mentally ill probationers has slightly declined.

You frequently hear people say that state and local governments use the criminal justice system as a substitute for scarce mental health services, with prisons "warehousing" mentally ill inmates who in past generations might have been in state hospitals or treated in other settings. The fact that mental health clients make up a higher percentage among the currently and formerly incarcerated than probationers appears to support that charge, implying that prison for many is the option of first resort for handling tens of thousands of mentally ill people in the state.

Lots more interesting stuff in the committe's interim report, which I'll adumbrate in more detail soon.

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