Saturday, June 10, 2006

Counties explore solutions for mentally ill in Texas jails

Everywhere in Texas county jails find themselves awash with mentally ill offenders. Jailers aren't social workers. Their facilities aren't equipped to handle the mentally ill and their guards aren't properly trained. Inmates who've had psychotic breaks might improve after being given their medication, but can't stay on the treatments without help once they're out in the free world again. Nobody seems to have a great answer, but between them Texas counties are testing quite a few different solutions. Several recent news item bear that out:

KHOU in Houston this week looked at the story of troubled suburban teen and wonders
whether the mentally ill should be jailed or hospitalized?

In Dallas they're taking baby steps toward a third option - community based care. Parkland Hospital, Dallas' public hospital, will soon begin
providing medication to jail inmates for several days after they leave the county's custody to give them a chance to see a doctor and maintain continuity taking their meds. (MH advocates say they should be give seven days worth of meds, which seems eminently reasonable compared to the costs of incarcerating them again after a breakdown.)

Retiring medical director of the Bexar County Jail, Dr. John Spark,
lamented to the San Antonio Express News the one plan to address the problem he could never figure out how to implement - a special, statewide facility for mentally ill county jail inmates from all over Texas to resolve the space shortage at state mental hospitals (I've written about that ongoing crisis here, here, here, and here; legislative leaders recently ponied up a little money aimed at relieving the crisis, but not nearly enough.)

Meanwhile, as I'd
written last week, Austin is creating a new public defender office for the mentally ill, while San Antonio has created a crisis care center where officers can take non-violent offenders who need medication and treatment more than jail.

Finding ways to handle these folks as patients instead of prisoners, preferably outside the jail, is a hot topic everywhere in the state. A lot of different solutions are being tried piecemeal, but in the big picture locals everywhere are struggling with dilemmas caused by statewide defunding of the mental health system. This problem requires a fundamental change in approach by local offiicials toward criminalizing mental illness. Slowly, of necessity, some counties do appear to be re-thinking the right approach. That's a start, but at the end of the day it will also require a legislative appropriation with a lot of zeroes behind it.


Anonymous said...

TDC’s Byrd Unit is experimenting with controlling epileptic inmate with beatings, deciding that he has a behavioral problem rather than physician diagnosed epilepsy, controllable through medication. The inmate who was transferred to Allred Unit has been denied the combination medication and during a seizure was severely beaten. His parent visited him this past weekend at the Allred Unit and has told his wife not to take the children to visit until the swelling and bruising heals. Prisoner, John Hutchins pleaded guilty to felony DWI, and now has an incident report and a bruised and battered body because he cannot control his seizures on his own and the medication is being withheld.

Anonymous said...

Seizure ready inmate. I am the wife that was the writer of that article. As of today, June 21, 2006, things have begun to change around. On June 12, 2006, I received a phone call from what I would say was an Angel, his name was Jeffrey Gardener with the Texas Tech Medical Center. He explained on the phone that he read my entire package regarding my husband and is not sure how he received it but would definitely review, research and call me back. By Wednesday, he called, they are placing my husband on the prescribed medication recommended by this neurologist (which Byrd said was out of the question). He also stated the Byrd Unit did mis-manage the medication that was provided to my husband.

I would just like to say, Thank you, Jeff Gardener. Angels do exists, we just have to be persistant and pray, pray, pray.

Anonymous said...

The Bexar County Mental Health Public Defender is not authorized to do jury trials. They've never tried a case. If you won't plead guilty to the indictment, then they withdraw. "Hi, I'm your lawyer. I'm here to help you. You can plead guilty, or you can have another lawyer."