"We're about to see huge setbacks. I think we're going to get slaughtered," said Leon Evans, chief executive of Bexar County Mental Health Care services. "We've been developing some tools so people don't have to go to the hospital and prison. But I think all these programs that are very effective, that help to reclaim lives, are at risk."If counties and municipalities aren't already freaking out about proposed mental health cuts, they aren't paying attention. This is another one of those areas - a common theme in corrections policy - where budget reductions by the state pretty much directly increase costs to local governments.
Experts say slashing mental health funding will have a painful and resounding effect across Texas when the mentally ill can't access the treatment and medication they need to function.
"What's happening is the criminalization of mental illness," said Polly Hughes, public policy chair of National Alliance on Mental Illness. "It shifts the responsibility of taking care of mental illness to the counties and officers who are already stretched thin."
Community services such as clinics, crisis hotlines and outpatient treatment are critical to keeping the mentally ill out of state institutions and jail.
The shortage of mental hospital beds means officers often have to drive a mentally ill person hundreds of miles to the next open bed.
"What we're facing in 2011 are law enforcement officers as de facto social workers and jails becoming asylums," Houston Senior Police Officer Frank Webb said. "Police officers are responding to more mental illness than social workers."
Jails are packed with mentally ill Texans who most often haven't committed a violent crime, but cycle endlessly through the system for minor violations, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Texans with a serious mental illness are eight times more likely to be incarcerated in jails than treated in hospitals, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A community health care program costs $12 per day to care for a patient, compared to $137 per day to incarcerate them, the group said.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Budget cuts would force police officers, jails to care for mentally ill
This AP story by Sommer Ingram makes the excellent point that budget cuts to mental health services amount to a de facto decision to force police officers and county jails to care for the mentally ill: