By one estimate, more than 40 percent of kids sentenced for serious crimes here have serious mental illness.KHOU gave a good analysis of the crisis, and I'm glad to hear HISD will start to perform mental health evaluations. But it's a mistake to think anything the Texas Legislature did in 2007 will fix these problems. At best they took a few baby steps at the start of a marathon.
But in Texas, the chance they ever got help for those mental problems is worst in the nation.
Yet another study colored Texas dark blue: at the bottom of all states for fewest children getting the mental health treatment they need.
But locally, it’s even worse.
“And Harris County is second from the bottom in per capita funding,” Dr. Steven Schnee said.
11 News: “So were in the lowest ranked states and one of the lowest counties within that state?”
Dr. Schnee: “You got it – absolutely.”
A hopeless situation? No, said Dr. Schnee, the director of the county’s Mental Health Authority.
“The Texas Legislature took several important, important steps,” Dr. Schnee said.
Lawmakers last month approved millions for emergency mental health services and expanded coverage for uninsured kids.
What’s more, the county is using private fund raising to pay for expanding clinics within schools where mentally ill children had sometimes been railroaded into classes for the learning disabled.
“Many of these children have been placed in special ed, special education — act up, go in special ed, no diagnosis, no treatment, nothing,” said Lois Moore with the UT-Harris County Psychiatric Center.
Now at Grimes Elementary on the south side, a mental health clinic will help diagnose kids who might be able to function normally with proper treatment.
“There was nothing available before we started it,” Moore said.
It's cheaper and produces better public safety outcomes to deal with mental health issues before a kid winds up committing crimes. But since most insurance shortchanges mental health coverage, even families with employer coverage can find themselves in the same predicament as someone with no insurance at all.
There's still an attitude among voters and many in the criminal justice system that mental illness is a personal failing, not a medical condition, even though medical professionals know better.
The result is that we use jails and prisons to house the mentally ill instead of hospitals. At TDCJ, 30% of adult inmates are past clients of Texas' indigent mental health system. I don't know the comparable figure for juveniles, but KHOU reports that "By one estimate, more than 40 percent of kids sentenced for serious crimes here have serious mental illness."
I've long understood that Texas indigent mental health system was inadequate and contributed to worsening public safety. This article adds another item to my "real public safety agenda": Forcing insurance companies to expand mental health coverage. Getting folks, especially kids, the care they need on the outside is a lot cheaper and creates better outcomes than waiting until the mentally ill commit crimes then trying to manage them in jail.