State budget cuts handed down during the recent legislative session left the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with a dangerously-low $6.1 billion biennial budget, approximately $97 million less than last year’s funding levels. As a result, the mental health care system suffered layoffs along with the rest of the prison health care services. And although treatment and medications were left untouched, fewer medical workers are now left to treat mentally-ill inmates.See related Grits posts:
“We were given dollars for facility staff, dollars for pharmaceutical care and dollars for hospitals and some specialty care. The cuts that came to the facility staff included 24 mental health employees that were laid off,” said Dr. Owen Murray, Vice President of University of Texas Medical Branch Correctional Managed Health Care system.
Roughly 80 percent of Texas inmates are treated by UTMB, 14.2 percent of which have been diagnosed with serious mental illness. Owens said universal changes to mental health care services caused the number of mentally-ill offenders to increase significantly each year .
“Given the erosion of infrastructure we are seeing trends that are alarming,” he said. “We’re seeing natural fallout from that change, and that is more of the seriously mentally ill patients in the state are migrating into the correctional environment via jail or prison.”
And although the demand for services continued to increase, the mental heath care system suffered staffing reductions in 2011 as a result of state budget cuts. Last July, UTMB announced 50 unfilled positions would remain vacant and 130 health-care workers would be laid off, 24 of which were mental health care workers.
Staffing cuts in turn increased the inmate-to-staff ratio from 58 to one upward to 65 inmates for every mental health care worker.
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