Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'Jails brace for influx of mentally ill'

The title of this post is the headline of a lengthy Houston Chronicle feature today on the effects of proposed budget cuts to mental health funding on county jails. The story opens:
Dr. Steven B. Schnee, executive director of the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, offered up an extended metaphor one day recently to illustrate the consequences of what he considers catastrophic cuts in state funding for mental health services. Schnee is a licensed psychologist whose agency assists more than 45,000 county residents annually through a variety of community-based programs.

"It's like saying, we're short money — and we are short money - so we're not going to put oil in our car. Or we're just going to put a little bit of oil in the car," he said, sitting in his fifth-floor office on the Southwest Freeway. "But when the engine blows up and we're spending thousands of dollars on the engine - because now the car doesn't work - we go 'Oh, my goodness! What happened here?' "

A dozen miles to the northeast, in downtown Houston, the man who runs the largest mental health facility in the state was pondering the same possibility. It's the Harris County Jail, where, on any given day, approximately a quarter of the 10,000 or so inmates receive constitutionally required mental health services for their diagnosable psychiatric conditions. Sheriff Adrian Garcia expects the numbers to grow.

"The cuts that we're hearing about are incredible," he said. "It's almost as if these people were invisible, as if there were no awareness of the problem within communities across the state of Texas, and particularly in Harris County."
See prior, related Grits coverage:


The Homeless Cowboy said...

Well boys and girls I stand in awe. There are two (2) bureaucrats in Texas that see the writing on the wall. I, having been unfortunate enough to have experienced the Harris County Jail on four (4) different occasions (Due to my stupidity, no one else is to blame) am wondering what is the next solution. Inmates are already being given 2, 3 sometimes 4 days credit for 1 in order to relieve overcrowding. If you are arrested by County Sheriffs for tickets, it doesn't matter how many you have, if none are over $500.00 then you are an "in and out" booked in, taken to court and booked out. You will sit in holding tanks between 18 and 48 hours, then released. The Harris County Jail is a HUGE people machine. If you have to serve 30 days, it will be 15 and many times most of the pods I was placed in were at least half MHMR inmates. The BIG jail on Baker st. is 6 floors, 8 tanks to the floor and 4 pods to the tank 24 bunks to most pods some more some less and then there are the inmates who sleep on the floor, they will tell you that doesn't happen but it does. That whole jail building if for medical inmates. There are 2 holding cells in the medical area proper, where the Dr.s and nurses have their stations. they are full 24 / 7 and being emptied and filled constantly. I for the life of me don't know where the heck they will put anymore inmates, MHMR or not. It is busting at the seams. Please keep in mind it was 2008 the last time I graced their halls with my presence but I'm pretty sure they haven't changed it much, if at all. Maybe thats why we need to give them so much money for more jails. or we could just turn all the Psych facilities into jails and take the money from someone elses budget who doesnt have it. Maybe we could figure out a way to incarcerate people and make them pay for it while they are in jail. Hey we could garnish thier families bank accounts, We could bring back public flogging. OK Im losing it now.........

Anonymous said...

"It's like saying, we're short money — and we are short money - so we're not going to put oil in our car. Or we're just going to put a little bit of oil in the car,"

Maybe it's time to decide if we need that car right now at all. Letting it sit in the garage or selling it, while we walk or bike is anouther option.