Too often, when mentally ill offenders come to their jails, sheriffs who are required to provide appropriate care for their inmates say they are forced to either drive hundreds of miles, wait for days in hospital emergency rooms guarding patients or try to make do in their local jails until a mental health bed becomes available. The looming budget shortfall that legislators will be grappling with in 2011 has sheriffs concerned that the problem will mutate into a crisis. “We’ve cut way too far, and it’s just not working,” [Van Zandt County Sheriff Pat] Burnett says.Sheriffs are reacting to concerns, expressed frequently in the past here on Grits, that cuts to the Department of State Health Services could strand inmates in county jails for months awaiting competency restoration services. As part of its budget cut suggestions reacting to recent demands from state leaders, Grissom reports, "One of the options the agency proposed is eliminating even more beds — more than 190 of them — from five of the state’s 10 mental hospitals." Half of beds at state hospitals are designated as "forensic beds" used by the criminal justice system to restore competency when courts declare a defendant incompetent to stand trial. Such defendants can't even plead guilty until the services are rendered; they just sit in jail, often for months on end, waiting for space to open up.
The number of beds at Texas’ state mental hospitals has gradually declined from 2,800 in 1996 to about 2,400 now. As the number of beds shrinks, treatment waiting lists expand. That means treatment delays for both law-abiding Texans and criminal offenders with mental illness.
As a practical matter, the state already is at risk of expensive litigation if they can't find a way to reduce waiting lists for forensic beds at state mental hospitals. This is a bit of a sleeper issue, but cuts to state mental hospitals would be a massive unfunded mandate for counties.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- Lubbock considers in-house competency restoration for mentally ill defendants
- 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?