cuts to the system don't translate into cost savings, said Chris Ziebell , director of emergency medicine at University Medical Center Brackenridge . Studies show that people with untreated mental illness are more likely to end up in emergency rooms and jails, where treatment is far more expensive.
"They're not going to save any money, and the people are going to end up suffering," Ziebell said.
The jail system is already dealing with the constraints of a limited mental health system, said Daniel Smith , counseling and education manager for the Travis County sheriff's office.This isn't just a Travis County problem, of course. This recent article out of Midland similarly lamented a surfeit of mentally ill offenders in their local jail. The same is true in virtually every county in the state.
About 20 percent of the approximately 2,400 inmates currently at the Travis County Correctional Complex and Travis County Jail are on psychotropic drugs for a mental illness. Many of those could not get help before their incarceration because of Integral Care's 1,400-person waiting list for adults, he said.
"We do get a bunch of people who really shouldn't be in jail, but the officers find a reason to arrest them so they can come in here and get care," Smith said.
Counties are generally willing to build jail beds for the mentally ill, but nobody wants to build hospital beds. Cuts to community-based mental health treatment will only exacerbate that problem, but they seem unavoidable in Texas' current budget climate.
This is an example why I'd be shocked to see Rep. Burt Solomons pass his proposed constitutional amendment banning unfunded mandates. State and local systems are too tightly intertwined, and virtually any reduction at the state level - particularly on healthcare and education - results in an increased burden on local government. Nowhere is that more evident than on mental health spending.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- 'Harris County jail not the place to treat mental illness'
- The making of an unfunded mandate: Cuts to mental health would dump costs on county jails
- Cuts to state mental hospitals would be massive unfunded mandate for county jails
- Mentally ill languish in Bexar jail awaiting assessment, competency restoration
- Cuts to state mental health treatment would shift costs to local jails
- Cutting state psych hospital budgets could backfire
- 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