The services for severely mentally ill inmates would include intervention, rehabilitation, competency restoration and education and are meant to reduce mentally ill inmates’ length of stay behind bars and reduce the probability they will return.
Officials hope the $260,000-per-year program will reduce the amount of time mentally ill defendants spend in jail by providing services — namely competency restoration — the county isn’t currently equipped to provide.
“The whole thing is to shorten the length of stay they have and reduce recidivism,” said Cathy Pope, chief executive officer of Lubbock MHMR.
She said the program that would be implemented is based on existing best practices programs around the country.One county inmate allegedly spent seven years in Lubbock's jail awaiting trial because of a lack of competency restoration services, which is far and away the longest I've ever heard of anybody waiting for a forensic bed at Texas state mental hospitals.
A psychiatrist would spend three or four hours per week at the jail and the contract would fund three mental health workers in the Special Needs Unit, which is scheduled to open as soon as mental health positions are funded.
Although the workers perform other functions, such as cognitive rehabilitation, the primary focus is on competency restoration, Pope said. That means psychiatrically stabilizing the individuals and then getting them to a point where they can assist in their own legal defense.
Restoration is currently done locally at MHMR’s Sunrise Canyon and also in Vernon at North Texas State Hospital. But limited beds at the local and regional level have forced Lubbock County inmates to sit in jail, oftentimes for years, with no conviction and no treatment.
Cuts to state hospitals - where half of all beds are allocated for competency restoration - will inevitably shift costs to county jails which must incarcerate defendants while they wait for these services. So Lubbock is getting ahead of the curve by installing these services now, along with their new Special Needs Defender office which is also focused on mentally ill defendants. Other counties will end up following Lubbock's lead whether they like it or not: It's too expensive to keep pretrial defendants incarcerated for months or years on end - sometimes for petty misdemeanors - waiting on the state to provide mandatory services.
Assuming they pull the trigger on the new arrangement, the Sheriff and commissioners court in Lubbock deserve tremendous credit for going this route. Other counties would do well to follow suit now before budget cuts at the Legislature next year strand even greater numbers of mentally ill inmates in local jails.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- Mentally ill languish in Bexar jail awaiting assessment, competency restoration
- Cuts to state mental health treatment would shift costs to local jails
- Competency restoration often best performed on outpatient basis
- Cutting state psych hospital budgets could backfire
- Geo Group secretly snagged forensic psych hospital contract in budget conference committee
- Outpatient centers better solutions than jail for competency restoration
- Legislature's underspending on competency restoration beds creates havoc
- Priorities: Mentally incompetent inmates languishing in Texas county jails
- 75-year old mentally incompetent grandmother stranded in Lufkin jail most of 2006
- Legislature should prioritize mental health funding that relieves local jails
- 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
- When I was sick, did you imprison me?