This is crazy. Did you know that a mentally ill person charged with a misdemeanor can spend months more in jail than a sane person charged with the same crime?The article closes praising legislation by Will Hartnett in the House and Tommy Williams in the Senate - HB 2725 - which would count time on the waiting list for restoration services against the ultimate sentence, making it easier to get charges dismissed when time incarcerated reaches sentence length, capping "total incarceration — both in jail and the state hospital - at the maximum sentence for the alleged crime." With looming cuts to community based mental-health services in both the House and Senate budgets, there's going to be even more pressure on jails in the next two years to serve as the health provider of first resort for mentally-ill people.
Here's how it works: If a prisoner appears unable to understand what is happening to him and to help his attorney in his defense, a judge needs to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.
It can take several weeks to get that proceeding, which can lead to an evaluation process that can take another 45 to 60 days.
If at that time the judge determines the person is not competent, the judge orders that the inmate be sent to the state hospital for therapy that will make him competent. But the limited number of hospital beds can mean a wait of as much as six months.
The state hospital routinely could take its limit of a full 120 days to treat the person. If the person is by that time competent, which is often the case, they can then go to trial or negotiate a plea bargain.
Many of these people are accused of Class B misdemeanors, which have a maximum sentence of 180 days.
Yet by the time they come back for trial, they can easily have exceeded that period of time by weeks or months.
The Hartnett/Williams legislation is the only significant bill providing jails any relief at all with low-level, incompetent inmates. Both the House and Senate budgets make cuts putting even greater pressure in the other direction. For that reason, to me this is almost must-pass legislation for Texas in 2011, though few outside sheriffs and county commissioners have paid much attention to the bill. Just a few years ago, Texas waiting lists for competency restoration reached crisis levels and they're pretty much back to that point now, even before the coming budget cuts. HB 2725 gives jails a release valve for less serious cases, but it doesn't resolve the underlying failure of the state to find the right mix of incarceration/institutionalization/community supervision, nor address mental illness in any but the most reactionary way, lurching from short-term crisis to crisis without an overall guiding vision for how all the pieces are supposed to work together. Such discussions, regrettably, are far from today's legislative debate. In the near term, passage of HB 2725 is the most that might happen to help on that score, and I'm sure counties would be glad for even that small measure of relief.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- Few bills proposed at Lege to remedy statewide crisis in competency restoration
- Harris County pleads case for mental health, probation/diversion funds in state budget
- Jail deaths implicate state oversight, competency restoration funding
- Mental health cuts by state would shift costs to local jails, emergency rooms
- '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