Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reduce number of mentally ill languishing in jail

For an informative discussion of the transportation and disposition of mentally ill people who're detained by police but not charged with any crime, see the discussion of SB 32 at the tail end of the first part of this morning's hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee (video here, runs for about 12 minutes starting at the 1:24:12 mark).

I thought Sen. Zaffirini offered compelling arguments when laying out her bill, which focuses on cases where a mentally ill person is taken into custody by police without being charged with a crime.

Such folks would be taken to jail only if a suitable mental health or medical facility is not available and the nearest facility approved by the local mental health authority is more than 75 miles away. Once taken to jail, they could be detained only up to 12 hours and must kept separate from other prisoners. Finally, the bill would eliminate hogtying and other abusive restraints.

Zaffirini emphasized that most jail suicides happen in the first 24 hours, so getting mentally ill folks who don't need to be there out of jail as quickly as possible helps prevent "decompensation." She also handed out flyers demonstrating some of the hogtying techniques currently in use that she's hoping to ban. Advocacy Inc.'s Beth Mitchell further clarified how the legislation would work for a big, high-volume jail like in Harris County.

An identical bill passed the Senate unanimously in both 2005 and 2007, but died the first time in the House Calendars Committee, then again last session sitting on the General State calendar on the final day for the House to hear Senate bills. (See a House Research Organization bill analysis from 2007.)

So this bill has consistently made it through the Senate and also the committee process in the House; maybe since it's starting out this time on the early side, the 81st Legislature can push it on through to the finish line. Kudos to Sen. Zaffirini for sticking with the idea all these years, and I hope the third time is the charm.

MORE: See written testimony submitted by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why in the world would Police take a mentally disabled person to jail anyways? Wouldn't it be prudent for LE to get these folks to qualified facilities ASAP to limit liability? Or is it just so ingrained in our system to punish, even those that have done nothing but have a disability?

Anonymous said...

And what are you going to do if the hospital is on diversion (no beds available). State hospitals will be reducing their budget (and presumably reducing beds) so, where do they go? Here in Smith County, if they do not have a charge, one will be made up for them just so law enforcement doesn't have to transport. Maybe in 6-8 months the DA's office will begin to prosecute and the mentally ill inmate will give up and plead guilty just to get out of jail. BTW, do district attorneys answer to anyone?

KTF said...

1:03 the reason we take them to jail is usually either they have committed a crime and are not showing any sign of mental illness that is a danger to them or others or that there is no space in a appropriate facility. many of these people are not manafesting any mental problem at the time of arrest but they develop while in custody for what ever reason. its not that we dont wantthem to get help it is usually either a matter of space or there is no reasonto commit them. there has to be a danger posed before we can do an emergency committment sometimes jail is just the lesser of the evils. its either that or leaving them on the streets with there issues and no chance of any sort of help....sad situation but we do what we can....

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of mentally ill kids in TYC who should not be there either.

Anonymous said...

"Why in the world would Police take a mentally disabled person to jail anyways?"

I've always felt we should call our state legislator at 2 in the morning when MHMR won't come out or the state hospitals won't do what they are suppose to.

And anonymous 2:39 is right to ask
"And what are you going to do if the hospital is on diversion (no beds available). State hospitals will be reducing their budget (and presumably reducing beds) so, where do they go?"

While on its face, the proposed bill is good. In the real world it won't work because of pain in the ass groups like MHMR who would rather us lock 'em up than them do their jobs and the lack of state hospital beds.

Anonymous said...

I know that Harris County is the largest jail (and the largest defacto psychiatric hospital), but how is that going to work in the rest of the world? Harris County gets the bulk of the financing and the bulk of the attention. Jail programs are often modeled after Harris County. What works for Harris County ain't gonna work for Henderson County or Gray County or the rest of the world. Texas does not revolve around Harris County.

Anonymous said...

Whew! I was afraid there was another TYC scandal until I clicked on the picture and read, "This is not an actual inmate." I wonder what the reason was for using that picture at all. Does anyone legitimately use that sort of restraint?

XTYC

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Yes, hogtying is still used in this state, despite its link to numerous deaths. A Harris County jury just recently awarded a multi-million dollar judgment to the mother of a mentally ill man who was hogtied when the law enforcement officers were taking the man into custody on a mental health warrant. And this was, by the way, after they had already tased him numerous times--this man who had not done a violent thing to anybody.

Anonymous said...

So, it wasn't a legitimate means of restraint. Glad to hear that.

XTYC

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To XTYC: That picture was the handout Zaffirini gave to committee members when she laid out the bill. I called her office and asked them to email it to me, which they graciously did.

Anonymous said...

To those in law enforcement who responded: Most people who commit crimes are suffering from some degree of mental illness. Alcoholism and drug addictions are forms of mental and physical illness. Violent individuals are usually suffering from mental illness. As a society we find it much easier to "label" people as "the bad guys" rather than look at the serious underlying conditions that are the cause. We are very definitely "programmed" to be a punitive society. There are many complex societal reasons, but the most obvious explanation from the governmental point is that fear controls. Whether its fear of the bad guys(whoever they are) or fear of the punishment. VERY powerful tool. Even in our technologically enlightened new century, we have a primitive aversion to mental illness. The saddest part of all: IF rehabilitation, qualified pyschological care and community support were in place the cost to society would be FAR less than the antiquated system of incarceration and ignorance in place. We have a long way to go to being a civilized country.

Anonymous said...

"There are plenty of mentally ill kids in TYC who should not be there either."

So where are they supposed to be? commit crimes, play crazy and yuo won't get in trouble? BS

KTF said...

anon 6:04 while I wont buy into alcoholics and drug users being mentally ill. those are choices people make. there are many who do slip through. I will agree that incarseration does not work but neither dose rehabilitation especially in mental cases. I hear a lot of banter back and forth on this subject but noone can come up with an alternative that works. on the other side we lock these peple up for crimes not for there mental state. what would we do leave them on the street? Not to sound harsh but I really think mental health issues are a bit over diagnosed which sadly forces he people whoactually need help to not be able to get it.

Anonymous said...

I am a medical professional and would like to say to 3:59:00 PM, the State took funding away from State Hospitals years ago and even closed many of them. There are no beds available and it takes a court order to have anyone committed.

To 6:04:00 AM, you too must be a medical professional and bless you. You are correct in your assumption that many people who commit crimes are mentally ill and need help not jail. If only those in our government would recognize, those who use mostly marijuana suffer from depression and anxiety and I have been told the MJ settles the shaking inside that person and calms them down.

If you have never seen an anxiety attack or a psychotic episode, neither of these conditions are pretty to watch and very hard to treat once that person is out of control. They should be helped, not arrested and it is high time those in the Lege realize this. I have written numerous times telling many of them this but there are still those hardcore Legislators who think people use drugs are just crooks and deserve to be arrested and punished. It is high time to remove some of them from their positions and replace them with people who understand this is physical illness and also the brain is lacking a chemical to control this diease. Help people, do not continue to hurt, this serves no purpose.

Nursjane.

Helga Dill said...

Thank you nurse Jane! State hospitals are a thing of the past. The latest demise was Terrell State hospital that existed since the late 1800s with 2400 beds. Perfectly good brick buildings were demolished approx. 2 years ago and now there is a mere 200 bed capacity. Prisons are our facility for the mentally ill . Hogtying is not the only absurd thing that goes on , if you have a seizure or are acting out of the ordinary you are stripped naked , put in a bare cell and hosed down with cold water . Another favorite is pepper spray w/o being able to wash it off. The absence of hospitals for these individuals is criminal at best. I am working with a housing facility that harbors the mentally ill no one wants to deal with , believe me , I know what I am talking about. Why are we worried about Guantanamo? Could be please see to it that our own citizens are not tortured ?
Helga Dill, Chair, TX CURE

Anonymous said...

KTF: Look at ANY statistics, in any state, that compare the results of rehab/mental heatlth care and incarceration and you will see vast differences in the outcomes. Helping people with mental illness, whether it is depression, addiction, or any other diagnosis makes a huge difference AND it is much more cost effective. While mental illness is in epidemic proportions, it is REAL. Denial does not make it go away. Niether do arcane punishments. Worst of all: Someone who goes into prison with a borderline issue can come out with a full blown mental breakdown. How could this possibly make sense.
I do agree that the legal/law enforcement professionals are sorely lacking in both training and understanding in this area and that must be addressed.
Just a factual note: The AMA lists Alcoholism as a disease. There have been VOLUMES of studies on addictions, and while we still don't completely understand the complexities of the brain, THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT ADDICTIONS, ALCOHOLISM AND MANY FORMS OF MENTAL ILLNESS ARE CHEMICAL/PHYSICAL IMBALANCES. Would you put someone in jail for having a heart attack, just because they caused a commotion when they collapsed?
Ignorance is never a good reason.

editor said...

What will you do if the hospitals are on diversion (no room at the inn)? Beth Mitchell wants to close all state institutions but wants patients to be transported there sooner? If you push for a reduction in hospital beds, you will have a suicidal, homocidal patients waiting for one of the few beds left. Where would you have them wait? At home with their wife and kids like Andre Thomas? Get real, fund treatment for state hospitals and you won't have to worry about them waiting in the jail. Believe me, the jail doesn't want them either!
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