creates a pilot program to reduce recidivism of individuals with serious mental illness in the Harris County Jail, which she says is regarded as the state’s largest mental health facility. On any given day, 25 percent of the inmates receive psychotropic medication. Hundreds of inmates with mental problems cycled in and out of Harris County jail five or more times from 2011 to 2012 according to Huffman and confirmed to News 92 FM by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, a Democrat.The legislation is "contingent on the continuing agreement of the Commissioners Court of Harris County to contribute $32,650,000 to the funding of the program each year in which the program operates," according to the filed version of the bill. The pilot program would expire after four years, prior to which the Department of State Health Services must issue a report on the results.
“Keeping non-violent people with mental health issues out of our jails is the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do,” said Huffman. “It costs $137 per day to keep someone behind bars as opposed to $12 per day for community mental health services. The majority of these individuals in the Harris County Jail never received the services they needed – services that probably would have kept them out of jail in the first place.”
The multi-year pilot program is designed to substantially reduce recidivism by incorporating a comprehensive array of clinical and social support services – easy access to mental health care, chemical dependence services, rehabilitation, and residential housing opportunities. A major benefit of the program is that it takes advantage of Harris County best practices and piggybacks onto existing resources such as crisis intervention and response teams, along with jail-based mental health services.“As a former prosecutor and judge, I’ve witnessed many stories of heartache involving families with mentally ill loved ones,” Huffman said. “It’s time we erased the stigma of mental illness. It is a medical problem that can be treated by proper care and medicine.”
Notably, the Senate Finance Committee boosted mental health funding by $200 million, reported the Statesman's Mike Ward, restoring cuts from last session. Ward mentioned that the Finance committee approved "more money" for the Harris County pilot, but I can't tell if that's in addition to the $200 million or if they're talking about the money put up by the commissioners court.
MORE: From Paul Kennedy. AND MORE: From YNN-Houston.