Sunday, January 29, 2012

Montgomery County seeks to reduce jail costs from mentally ill

The Conroe Courier yesterday had the story of a new mental health docket in Montgomery County (using "managed assigned counsel," whatever that means) created with a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission aimed at diverting mentallly ill defendants from the jail:
In the past few days, the county launched its managed assigned counsel program for indigent defendants to focus on representing defendants with mental health issues. Sara Forlano, a former assistant county attorney for Montgomery County, recently left private practice to start up the new program.

The county also will have a mental health court docket to closely monitor probationers with serious mental illness, according to a press release. The programs were created through a $487,000 grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, and supported by matching funds from the county.

The managed assigned counsel would work with an oversight board, whose members commissioners approved in February.

“The goal of this program is to lower the rate of recidivism,” Judge Cara Wood, of the 284th state District Court, stated in the release. “There is a high rate of recidivism among this population.”

Williamson County saved $3.2 million from 2005-08 through reduced jail bookings and necessary medications in jail, while Bexar County has saved “at least” an estimated $5 million annually through a similar program, Wood previously told commissioners.

“We anticipate the same or similar savings to our county,” she said in February. “And we never want to lose sight that it’s the right thing to do.”

Wood previously said approximately 600 indigent defendants would be served by the program.
The cost to house a mentally ill person in jail is about $55,000 per year, while the cost for a typical inmate is about $20,000 a year, she said.

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