The Harris County Jail is now the largest mental health facility in Texas. Approximately 2,400 inmates a day are now diagnosed with a psychiatric illness that medically justifies the provision of psychiatric medications. There are almost as many psychiatrically ill inmates in the jail on psychiatric medications as there are patients in all of the Department of State Health Services hospital beds across the entire state.
Let that reality sink in.
How is this occurring? Several critical factors contribute to this disturbing trend. First, many individuals with a serious mental illness need early access to appropriate professional diagnosis and treatment and, often, supports to achieve and maintain stability in their psychiatric condition. These conditions aren’t, as a general rule, cured by medication. Stabilized, yes — cured, no. These individuals need education about the condition, available treatment options, impact on personal capabilities, stability and maintenance over time, etc. — all of which are made more difficult by the nature of these disorders affecting the information-processing organ of the body — the brain. These are neuro-chemical — disorders of the brain. And, if one throws into the mix that many untreated or undertreated folks with mental illness self-medicate with street substances, alcohol or both to ease the internal pain, one has a recipe for people recycling in and out of the criminal justice system because their behaviors run afoul of the law.
The discrepancy between the funded treatment capacity (8,500 per month) for only the three eligible diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression (let alone all the other serious psychiatric conditions for which people end up in jail) is huge. A conservative estimate of the incidence/prevalence of these three diagnoses in Harris County is 170,000. ...
The risks to our society at multiple levels are huge. Economically, socially, to compete on the world stage, we can’t afford to continue the incredible loss and waste of human potential. And though the focus of this article is on the adult justice system, a similar reality is unfolding within the juvenile justice system.
Keep an eye on the jail — it is truly a barometer of the health of our community.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Number of mentally ill in jail a community 'barometer'
The executive director of the Harris County MHMR Authority, Steven Schnee, has an effective op ed in the Houston Chronicle today declaring that the scope of mentally ill people in the Harris County jail foretells a coming crisis: