Monday, November 06, 2006

Counting Texas prisoners who suffer from severe mental illness

How many people in Texas prisons suffer from serious mental illness? I ran across these "official" numbers this morning. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) offered the estimates to the 79th Texas Legislature in this 2005 report (pdf):

Overview of Matches Between Texas Offenders and Texas MHMR Service Recipients
  • Probation: 59,612 (15%)
  • Prisons and state jails: 33,008 (22%)
  • Parole: 12,332 (16%)
TCJS offered these caveats to the data:
Several issues are raised with this encounter data. First, although the numbers provide a good baseline of prevalence rates, it is not a total or accurate assessment of actual numbers. The CARE system only includes those individuals who have ever received an MH/MR service from the public mental health system. This in turn means that those individuals who were denied services due to lack of resources or who accessed private psychiatric treatment would not be represented in the data match. Furthermore, an individual’s mental health status may have changed thus making him/her ineligible for MH/MR services.

A second factor involves the offender population in this data review. The large majority of the offenders in this sample are felons. In comparison, local jails process a significant number of defendants charged with misdemeanor offenses. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a large number of persons charged with misdemeanors have a serious mental illness. This may in turn suggest that the overall prevalence rate of persons with mental illness in jails may be higher than the 17 percent noted for the felony population.
In other words, it's likely local jails incarcerate an even higher percentage of mentally ill offenders (as suggested by other studies), but Texas jails don't all cross-check their offender populations with TXMHMR's client database, said the report.

This is the kind of issue I WISH were discussed during the Governor's election, instead of imaginary terrorists on the border and who loves dogs. There are many bad consequences to using our criminal justice system as a substitute for mental health care - more than I could even allude to here. But these data show that's pretty much what Texas is doing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can tell you from personal experience working in one of the largest prisons in the state, that yes most of the "residents" are mentally ill in one form or another.